x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

As UAE temperatures fall the risk of flu rises as doctors urge vaccinations

People should not be fooled into thinking if they live in a hot climate they will avoid the flu, warn doctors.

ABU DHABI // As temperatures fall the risk of influenza is on the rise – and doctors are urging vaccinations for all by the end of the month.

“People think they do not have to be vaccinated here but I would recommend flu shots for everybody,” said Dr Mohammed Idrees, a general practitioner at Al Tadawi Medical Centre in Dubai who treats several patients every year suffering with seasonal influenza.

People should not be fooled into thinking if they live in a hot climate they will avoid the flu.

“Influenza is a global problem this time of year,” he said. “The flu season affects everybody.”

Excessive air conditioning, poor ventilation and a multicultural and ever-changing population who bring bugs and viruses from their home country all contribute to the problem, he said.

Mild symptoms range from cough, a stuffy nose, a fever, headaches, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Symptoms worsen for those in high-risk groups, such as children under 5, adults over 65 and anyone with an existing condition such as diabetes or obesity, respiratory problems such as asthma, heart diseases, chronic illnesses or kidney or liver problems – which often mean they have a weaker immune system.

“These risk groups can experience far more severe symptoms such as pneumonia, ear infections, asthma attacks and even heart failure,” Dr Idrees said.

For high-risk groups, annual flu shots should be compulsory, he advised.

Dr Idrees said the best way to avoid flu was to have a well-balanced diet and to drink plenty of fluid.

Getting your eight hours sleep a night, steering clear of junk food and cigarettes and having a healthy, active lifestyle will also lower the chances of becoming ill.

Dr Saicharan Bodi, a respiratory doctor at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, sees eight to ten patients a week every year between late October and early February, complaining of flu.

“Flu is a problem everywhere,” he said. “We are not excluded as a country at all.”

He said it was important once people had the flu to remember “cough etiquette” and to avoid public places such as schools or shopping malls.

“People have to be careful as flu is very quickly spread,” he said.

“Cover you mouth when coughing and remember to wash your hands regularly when you have a runny nose.”

He said those who do get the flu should immediately consult a doctor if they experience any problems breathing.

“This could be an indication that the virus has spread, there is an infection to the lungs or a sign of pneumonia,” he said.

Rashi Chowdhary, a nutrition expert from Dubai, said an increased appetite during the winter encouraged many to eat unhealthy comfort food.

“People tend to gain some weight or inches especially around their waist at winter,” she said.

Seasonal changes also caused a drop in Vitamin D levels, she said.

“A combination of all this together with a stressful lifestyle leads to lower immunity levels,” she said.

“You can avoid this by focusing on foods rich in zinc, such as beef, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds and spinach, great quality protein, such as whole eggs, salmon, lentils, and taking an antioxidant supplement.”

jbell@thenational.ae