FEELING a bit sluggish from the cold wet weather? You’re quite normal. Feeling even more disorientated, from news about COVID variants, lockdown rules, and the vaccination programs? You’re certainly not alone.
We may be sick of the virus; it still has a huge appetite on us. A member of the COVID virus family, called the ‘Delta variant’, has recently been in the spotlight. Viruses, like all creatures, constantly adapt
themselves to the environment. They ‘mutate’, in order to survive. Small changes of the genetic makeups give rise to new features. Those viruses containing new features are called ‘variants’. Some are dumb variants that run themselves out quickly, others being more readily spreadable become dominant.
The Delta variant is the one that has triggered New South Wales’s lockdown last week. First identified in India in December 2020, it has now spread to more than 85 countries, causing a COVID resurgence. In Victoria, the authorities are trying to trace and contain this variant from the two new cases detected last Friday.
Current data suggest that Delta variant is by far the most transmissible, across all age groups, including children. There is evidence that a brief five to 10 seconds contact may be enough for one to acquire the virus.
For this reason, we are calling for ever greater vigilance, and be tested if you have any respiratory symptoms.
Preliminary evidence from England and Scotland also suggests that people infected with Delta are twice as likely to end up in hospital.
Although the Delta variant is moderately resistant to vaccines, particularly in people who have received a single dose, a recent Public Health England study found that people who have had one vaccine dose are 75% less likely to be hospitalized, compared with unvaccinated individuals, and those who are fully vaccinated are 92% (AstraZeneca) and 96% (Pfizer) less likely to be hospitalized.
Data on nearly 20,000 samples in America since April suggest that the Delta variant is spreading faster in US counties where less than 30% of residents have been fully vaccinated, compared to the counties with vaccination rates above that threshold.
In Foster Medical Centre, we continue to provide the AstraZeneca vaccine for those above 60, and we are expecting to receive and commence with Pfizer vaccine from mid July for under 60 year-olds. However, if you have had your first AstraZeneca vaccine, you are safe to have the second dose, regardless of age. The risk of the most feared clotting problem (TTS) remains extremely low. To the estimated 815,000 patients aged 50-59, the risk of TTS is 14.8 per million after the first dose, vs 1.5 per million after the second.
Please keep an eye on the local paper, the medical centre’s website, and its Facebook page where we have more timely updates.
In contrast to the COVID virus, influenza virus –‘the flu’ is more familiar but hardly a begin nuisance. Last year we enjoyed a historically low season due to the COVID restrictions. It is expected, however, that fewer people being infected last year means a reduced immunity in our population and the chance of a resurgence is now higher.
Influenza is not a common cold. It causes a sudden surge of high fever, body aches especially in the head, lower back and legs, extreme weakness and tiredness. People often describe the feeling like ‘being hit by a truck’. Often it is associated with a dry cough, sore throat, loss of appetite, chills, and aching behind the eyes. Runny or stuffy nose can occur but is not usually a prominent symptom.
In 2021 to date, children under 5 years of age, adults aged 60–69 years, and adults aged 80 years and older, have the highest influenza notification rates in Australia. These groups, together with pregnant women, and people with other chronic diseases, are at risk of developing serious complications, including sinus and ear infection, pneumonia, inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscles (myositis, rhabdomyolysis), and multi-organ failure (eg. heart, respiratory and kidney failure).
Annual influenza vaccination is recommended for everyone at or above 6 months of age. The vaccine’s efficacy is 54-65% against laboratory-confirmed influenza.
It is recommended that people wait at least 7 days (reduced from the previous 14 days interval) between a dose of flu vaccine and a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. There is no evidence that the 2 vaccinations interact with each other, this is rather a precautionary recommendation that allows for proper safety and monitoring for both vaccines. A time interval shorter than 7 days is acceptable in some circumstances, including logistic issues.
Thanks to the support from the local community, we have administered over 2000 flu vaccines in Foster Medical Centre in the last few months. Although the drive-through clinics are finished for the year, you can still have a flu shot in the clinic with our nurses. Please contact Foster or Toora clinics to make an appointment.
Going for a long walk last weekend was a bit tricky, as you couldn’t tell when the next shower was coming. Nature can find a way to get us wet, or sick, if we’re not prepared.
By Dr Ruyu Yao