How safe, how effective are they?
Not viable for State hospitals
National Hospital of Sri Lanka, Dr Anil Jasinghe, echoing
similar sentiments, also informed the Sunday Observer that
flu shots were available in the country, emphasising that
they were only available in leading private hospitals. Asked
how safe they were, he said they had not received any
negative reports so far. "However, since the virus mutates,
and the vaccine has to be replaced every season, it is
difficult for a welfare state like ours to give them free of
charge to every patient who makes a request," he pointed
With the seasonal viral fever at its peak, global focus has once
again shifted to the influenza vaccine, with everyone keen to keep the
highly contagious infection at bay, especially during the holiday
season. But how safe and effective are these flu shots and more
importantly are they available in Sri Lanka? Consultant Chest Physician,
Welisara Chest Clinic, Dr Saman Kuleratne, answers some of these
questions in this interview with the Sunday Observer.
Q: With the sharp surge in viral influenza now spreading to
all parts of the island, many people are desperately trying to find ways
to prevent the infection that has forced both children and adults alike
to stay at home. Is the influenza vaccine available in Sri Lanka?
A: Yes. Influenza vaccine is freely available in most leading
private hospitals, but not in the State hospitals. Influenza is a self
limiting illness in healthy people. Adequate rest and symptomatic
measures are the only treatment indicated. Complications occur only in a
minority, especially those who have chronic health problems such as
asthma, chronic lung problems, Diabetes, Heart diseases, and extremes of
age. Therefore the flu vaccine is not indicated for each and every
Q: Why is it not available in government hospitals?
A: If it is made freely available, it is likely the
vaccination may be over used. For one thing, it is an expensive vaccine,
to be given to the thousands who attend our OPDs every day. For another,
they are valid for only a temporary period and have to be renewed every
year or so, as they don't give a lasting immunity against the disease.
The flu vaccine is routinely indicated only for the risk groups.
Q: Why doesn't it give a permanent immunity?
A: Because the virus changes (mutates) every season and the
vaccine thus has to be altered as well to be effective.
Q: Is it safe for those using it?
Q: Rhinitis is also a common ailment at this time around.
Explain what Rhinitis is.
A: Rhinitis is of several types, commonest being viral and
allergic. Allergic type is generally referred to as 'peenus amaaru' in
the local dialect.
Q: What is the difference between viral and allergic rhinitis?
A: In allergic rhinitis you would probably get up sneezing in
the morning these days because of climatic conditions dust, pollen and
bacteria in the air.
The symptoms are similar in viral flu where you have a runny nose,
cough, sneezing and fever. But unlike viral flu, where the symptoms
disappear after a few days, allergic rhinitis symptoms last for several
months or even years. In addition, attacks of viral flu in asthmatic
patients can exacerbate their condition. In some, the flu can lead to
Q: What about persons with TB?
A: People with TB end up with some scarring of the lungs after
they recover. So they are more prone to get secondary infections
Q: Your advice?
A: Cover mouth and nose when sneezing. Cough and sneeze into a
disposable tissue which should be discarded immediately into a bin. Wash
hands thoroughly with running water and soap and use disinfectant if you
go outside. Avoid large crowds. If the fever persists and you have
difficulty in breathing, seek help from a qualified medical practitioner