• First-of-its-kind Dubai study on the trends and incidence of seasonal influenza.
• Almost 30,000 samples studied.
• According to the study, almost half of the total seasonal influenza cases were among students less than ten years of age in Dubai.
• Public health specialists advocate the need to get the seasonal flu vaccine, especially in light of COVID-19 and especially for high-risk individuals.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 14 September 2020: The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) announced today the results of the 2017 to 2019 study on influenza incidence and trends in Dubai.
The results were discussed during a webinar organized by the authority to discuss seasonal influenza in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The webinar was moderated by Dr. Hamid Yahya Hussain, Consultant in the Data Analysis, Research & Studies Department at the DHA and the speakers of the webinar included Dr. Abdishakur Abdulle, Associate Director, Public Health Research Center, New York University Abu Dhabi and Dr. Heba Mamdouh, PDF in Public Health and researcher in the Data Analysis, Research & Studies Department at the DHA.
DUBAI STUDY ON INCIDENCE AND TRENDS OF INFLUENZA:
During the webinar, experts discussed the results of the first in-depth study on seasonal influenza in Dubai. The study known as trend, patterns and prevalence of seasonal influenza among Dubai’s population analysed the reports of almost 30,000 confirmed influenza cases in Dubai from 2017 to 2019.
Khalif Jallaf, Director of the Data Analysis, Research & Studies Department at the DHA said, “The aim of the study was to attempt to understand seasonal influenza in Dubai, by assessing the incidence rates from 2017 to 2019, identifying the risk factors associated with the infection, and identifying the demographic distribution most vulnerable to the disease. We strongly promote data collection and research with an aim to help device evidence-based policies to enhance the health sector in Dubai and to promote public health and wellbeing.”
Dr. Yahya said that the study is particularly important as it provides an integrated platform for understanding the pathways, characteristics and trends of seasonal influenza in Dubai and is thus an entry point for effective public health approaches. The study will help decision makers and health policy developers to device evidence-based policies.
According to WHO, influenza affects more than 10 per cent of the total population annually worldwide. It is highly contagious disease; spreads easily, with rapid transmission in crowded areas including schools and nursing homes.
For the DHA study, a retrospective record review was carried out for a sample of nearly 30,000 confirmed seasonal influenza cases reported in Dubai from 2017 to 2019.
All age groups, gender, nationalities, occupations, education and seasons were considered.
Findings of the study:
The study revealed that that almost 49.5 per cent of the cases were among children less than ten years of age.
The study also revealed that 84.53 per cent of the total seasonal influenza cases during 2017 to 2019 were handled at the outpatient level, yet 15.47 per cent were severe enough to be admitted and treated at an inpatient level across different health care facilities in Dubai.
The present study showed that the incidence rate of seasonal influenza in Dubai in 2017 to 2019 as per month distribution was the highest in November followed by December and the least was in July.
The study concluded that incidence rate of seasonal influenza in Dubai has been increasing in the last three years, yet it is not alarming.
The highest rates significantly come from the children segment of the population specially students and the elderly group as well. The period from October to end of February of each year showed the highest rate of seasonal influenza incidence in the emirate.
He urged community members especially high-risk groups to get vaccinated before the start of the flu season especially this year due to COVID-19.
INFLUENZA VACCINE ESPECIALLY DURING COVID-19:
Dr Abdishakur Abdulle said that the UAE is among the countries that has a lower rate of incidence and death per capita from COVID-19 as compared to many countries globally. He attributed it to the timely action and guidance of the leadership and other factors including proactive measures that were taken early on, aggressive testing, quick construction of field hospitals, mobile and drive through testing centres, isolation centres and the dedication of healthcare professionals who served the community members tirelessly as well as active public engagement.
Dr Abdulle advised that during the influenza season it is highly recommended to take the flu vaccine especially since the symptoms of seasonal influenza and COVID-19 are similar.
“Both seasonal influenza and COVID-19 have similar clinical manifestations so this flu season it is imperative to take the flu vaccine.”
He emphasized that children and the elderly in particular should get the flu vaccine.
Dr Mamdouh says, “Since the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Testing will be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. Since, we already have a vaccine in place for influenza, its best to take the vaccine.”
She emphasized that the vaccine for influenza will not protect against COVID-19 and that precautionary measures must be adopted at all times.
In terms of the flu vaccine, she said, “We recommend getting a flu vaccine in the beginning of this year’s flu season. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu. In terms of timings, flu season runs from end of September until February and therefore its best to get vaccinated in the beginning of the season itself.”
Who should get a flu shot?
Dr. Yahyah recommends that everyone should get a flu shot especially medical workers, school staff and those who fall under the high-risk category due to age or certain comorbidities. “We recommend that people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, pregnant women, immunocompromised individuals, those with any chronic diseases, children especially before the age of 5 years, should opt for the flu vaccine specifically.”
Benefits of the flu shot:
A flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Most flu vaccines protect against influenza A and two influenza B viruses. “Even if the vaccine doesn’t prevent you from getting the flu, it may make the illness less serious should you get infected. In most cases, it may protect the patient for getting a severe form of the flu that can lead to in-patient hospitalization.”
COVID-19 and seasonal influenza:
Dr. Yahyah said that vaccination coverage is not as widely adopted in the community as healthcare professionals hope to see and this is one of the major reasons for the spread of influenza. He added that the other issue is the lack of awareness of the disease and the lack of understanding of the benefits of the vaccine.
Besides the personal benefit, getting a flu vaccine also contributes to the wider public health effort. “It is important to realize that taking the vaccine is not just for you, it’s also to prevent spreading the virus to others. It’s quite simple; at a community level, the more people that are vaccinated, the fewer overall cases there will be which is better for the community and the healthcare system especially since we also have COVID-19 to tackle this year.”
“It is better to think of your wellbeing, the wellbeing of your family and we must also think of the community as well.”