It is finally cooler in Hong Kong and this is the time of the year to get your flu shot. Getting the flu vaccine is without a doubt the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu, reducing doctor visits, school sick days, work sick days and preventing hospitalizations. People who are most vulnerable to flu complications are very young children, pregnant women, people with long-term health conditions and the elderly. In Hong Kong, it is common to get a seasonal flu shot, especially since the dense population can facilitate the transmission of the flu. Here are some key facts about influenza and the Hong Kong Vaccination Subsidy Scheme.
Flu season in Hong Kong: January to March and July to August
According to the Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection, seasonal influenza commonly occurs between January to March and July to August. The Centre for Health Protection advises getting the flu shot in the fall every year. Why fall? Because your body needs at least two weeks to produce the antibodies necessary to ward off the virus and in the meantime you should take necessary personal and environmental hygiene measures to avoid contracting or spreading the flu.
Public sector: The Vaccination Subsidy Scheme (VSS)
While Hong Kong’s public health sector does not provide free influenza vaccination to the general population, it has implemented a subsidy scheme to encourage most vulnerable people to get vaccinated by private providers.
Who is eligible?
- Children 6 months to 12 years of age or primary school children
- Pregnant women
- Elderly over 65 years of age
- Intellectually disabled individuals
- Physically disabled people (who receive disability allowance)
Subsidy amount? $190 per dose of influenza vaccine.
Extra costs? Sometimes. Some doctors charge up to $450 after deducting the $190 subsidy.
Where? At private doctors enrolled in VSS. Look for the nearest doctor and their costs here.
Private sector: providers and costs
Who is eligible? Everyone.
Subsidy amount? None unless you are eligible for VSS and seek services from a doctor enrolled in the VSS.
Costs? On HK Island, prices vary between $250 and $450 for the vaccine and the clinic may charge a medical consultation fee in addition to the vaccine especially if it is your first visit. First time consultation fees vary tremendously according to the doctor’s specialty and location. Ask at your clinic or doctor of your choice for more information.
Where? At your general practitioner, pediatrician or gynecologist-obstetrician.
Do I have the flu or cold? Know the differences
The flu and the common cold are different. While both are contagious respiratory track illnesses and include similar symptoms such as coughing, sore throat, runny nose, headache, malaise and fatigue, they are caused by different viruses. The flu is caused by the influenza virus, whereas the common cold is most often caused by a rhinovirus.
The main difference between the two is the severity and nature of the symptoms. A runny or stuffy nose is more commonly seen in the common cold whereas fever and muscle soreness are more common in the flu. Simply put, symptoms for the common cold are milder than for the flu.
Some people are less susceptible to the flu
Not every person who is infected with influenza presents the typical flu symptoms. According to British and American researchers, a study published in 2012 by Nature, they found a gene that plays an important role in your susceptibility to the flu. But before you run off and claim you got the flu because you are genetically predisposed, bear in mind that there are other factors that contribute to your overall susceptibility. Whether or not you are genetically more susceptible to the flu, proper hygiene, a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle will definitely help you keep your immune system top notch!
Babies under the age of 6 months should not receive the flu shot
Babies under the age of 6 months are actually at the highest risk of developing (severe) complications. However, they are too young to receive a flu vaccine. Therefore, it is essential to protect them from the flu by maintaining proper hygiene, getting vaccinated yourself and keeping your infant away from people who are ill or showing flu symptoms. This will lower the chances of your baby contracting the virus.
Daily habits to protect yourself against the flu
Whether or not you are vaccinated, adopting daily hygiene habits can help you protect yourself and the people around you against the flu:
- Wash your hands with soap regularly, especially before touching your face, eating a meal or after touching door knobs, handrails or lift buttons/switches.
- If you cannot wash your hands regularly, use hand sanitizer (70-80% alcohol) as an alternative.
- If you have respiratory symptoms, wear a surgical mask to avoid spreading your germs.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing with a tissue and immediately dispose the soiled tissue.
- Thoroughly wash your hands if you coughed or sneezed in them.
- Avoid crowded and poorly ventilated public places during influenza peaks.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle: a balanced diet, adequate rest and regular exercise.
- Wear a surgical mask if you belong to the at-risk population to avoid contracting the flu.