Free flu shots have been made available in the UAE for the most vulnerable members of society in a bid to reduce the number of people falling seriously ill from the virus this winter.
After a large number of infections in the Australian winter, often a bellwether for flu season elsewhere, UAE health authorities have stepped up the latest campaign to protect the young, elderly and infirm.
Infections are expected to increase from the end of the month and continue until March, with the latest flu vaccine made available at hospitals, primary heath centres, clinics and pharmacies across the country.
By mid-August, Australia had recorded almost 200,000 cases of flu in what was its winter, with children the most likely to experience complications.
A significantly larger number of infections than the previous year in the Southern Hemisphere prompted health authorities to step up protection measures in the UAE.
“We look at the global picture [for influenza infections] and the whole world,” said Dr Farida Al Hosani, executive director of infectious diseases at the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre.
“We focus on the experience in the Southern Hemisphere during the summer so that it will help us to be more prepared for our season in the winter.
“We are closely monitoring the global situation as well, as the population is growing so fast here, particularly in Dubai.
“The community can support these efforts by receiving the seasonal influenza vaccine as soon as possible, as it takes up to two weeks for the body to build sufficient immunity for protection against the disease.”
The latest flu vaccine is effective against several strains of flu.
How can seasonal flu affect you?
Seasonal flu is highly contagious and is primarily spread by inhaling droplets dispersed in the air when an infected individual coughs, sneezes or talks.
Transmission can also occur through contact with surfaces or materials contaminated with the virus, followed by touching the face, specifically the mouth, nose or eyes.
Symptoms include a fever, cough, sore throat, headaches and fatigue, while children can experience vomiting and diarrhoea.
In March, the highly contagious H3N2 strain in India was linked to an increase number of hospital admissions and deaths in young children and the elderly.
With new variants of Covid-19 also circulating around the world, doctors said the recommendations for precautions remained the same this winter.
New arrivals in the UAE are encouraged to get a booster vaccine against Covid-19, with those showing early symptoms of the virus, or flu, urged to isolate.
The flu campaign targets a broad spectrum of society, with priority given to pregnant women, those over 50 and anyone with a chronic medical condition such as diabetes or hypertension.
Children under five and healthcare workers are also in the priority group for vaccination.
Doctors said school campaigns would encourage pupils to be vaccinated.
Those wishing to take the protection voluntarily who are outside of the vulnerable category will need to pay Dh50 ($13).
Dr Shamsa Lootah of Emirates Health Services encouraged the public to get vaccinated and take precautionary measures to reduce the spread of the virus.
“The Ministry of Education and all schools are helping to ensure we put plans in place,” she said.
“We will have certain KPIs [key performance indicators] to reach the coverage rate within schools, including the teachers and the education staff.”