Flu in the Philippines: Vaccine, Treatment, Causes, and More

Nobody likes getting a jab in the arm. But the flu shot saves lives. Getting vaccinated is the most powerful act you can take to prevent the flu and protect your loved ones.

The symptoms of influenza range from mild to severe. Age and overall health influence how sick you become from the flu. For the elderly and people with chronic illnesses, flu infection can be very serious, even deadly. The best way to prevent the flu and its complications is to get vaccinated every year.

What is the flu?

People often use the word “flu” to describe common ailments and colds. However, the flu is a very contagious respiratory illness caused by the flu virus. It infects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs.

How serious is the flu in the Philippines?

Every year, flu in the Philippines infects tens of thousands of Filipinos.  Most people recover within a week or two. But sometimes the flu virus attacks your lungs and weakens your immune system, leaving you open to secondary infections. This is why the flu often turns into something more dangerous, like pneumonia.

Serious complications are more likely to strike young children, older adults, and people with existing health problems. But, anyone can catch the flu and suffer miserable symptoms, including high fever, coughs, chills, body aches, and fatigue.

How does the flu spread?

The flu is very contagious. It can spread quickly through households, offices, schools, and other shared spaces. According to the Philippines Department of Health (DOH), the flu incubation period is 1-3 days. That means you can spread the flu to others before you realize you’re sick.

When a person with the flu coughs, sneezes, or talks, millions of infected droplets fly through the air. Anyone who breaths in the droplets can become sick with the flu. You can also catch the flu through physical contact, such as hugs, handshakes, and touching contaminated objects. This is why you should never share food and drinks, even if the other person appears well.

The anti-flu shot is the most effective form of protection

Flu vaccine in the Philippines

The best way to prevent the flu is through annual vaccination. The Philippine DOH recommends an anti-flu shot every year, ideally before the flu months in the Philippines (June to November)). Along with an anti-flu shot, further measures to prevent the flu include:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Use alcohol to sterilize commonly touched surfaces.
  • If you care for someone infected with the flu, protect yourself with a facemask.
  • Stop the spread of the flu by coughing and sneezing into the crook of your elbow instead of your hands.
  • Avoid crowded places and practice social distancing.
  • If you are sick, stay home and self-isolate in your room.

But remember, these are complementary preventative measures.  The first and best flu prevention will always be the anti-flu vaccine.

Who Should Get the Anti-Flu Shot

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone over the age of six months, with rare exceptions. It’s especially important for people at risk for serious complications to get immunized.

People who should NOT get the flu shot include:

  • People with severe allergies to ingredients in the anti-flu shot.
  • People who’ve had an allergic reaction to the anti-flu shot before.
  • Babies under 6 months old.
  • People with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).
  • If you are currently feeling sick, speak to your doctor before getting vaccinated.

Why do I need the flu shot every year?

Influenza is clever. Every flu season, the virus changes and mutates into new strains. This means the anti-flu shot must also change every flu season. Throughout the year, doctors across the globe collect specimens from flu patients and send them to the world’s top laboratories. Researchers use these samples to predict which flu strains will circulate next year.  Each year’s anti-flu vaccine is different from the last.

Some populations may need even more than one jab during flu season in the Philippines. For example, our immune system weakens as we age.  One flu shot for seniors may not be enough. For full protection, elderly people may require two anti-flu shots. It’s best to speak to your doctor about the best timing for each shot.

A “universal vaccine” vaccine is in the works. Scientists hope to make a flu vaccine that offers long-lasting protections against all strains. Until then, the annual anti-flu vaccine is the best prevention we have.

When to get the flu shot

The flu season in the Philippines runs from June to November. The DOH recommends getting a flu vaccine in the Philippines during April and May, before the flu season starts.  If you miss the window, you can still get the shot.  Getting a flu vaccine late is better than never.

Flu season coincides with the rainy season in the Philippines, leading many people to believe that rain spreads the virus. However, this is a common misconception about the flu. Tiny flu virus particles--not rain--spread influenza. The best prevention is a flu vaccine, not an umbrella.

Where can I get a flu vaccine in the Philippines?

Most Philippine hospitals and clinics offer the anti-flu vaccine. It’s best to call ahead, to ensure stocks are available. If you prefer not to risk exposure in the waiting room, home vaccination is approved by the DOH in the Philippines. Not all all home vaccination providers are licensed, however, so do your research first. Most mobile labs do not require a prescription from a doctor. You can get vaccinated from the comfort of home, without visiting a doctor’s clinic.

Which flu vaccine in the Philippines is best?

There are many anti-flu vaccine options to choose from, but the most important thing is to get vaccinated. If you have questions about which brand is best for you, talk to your doctor. Generally, it is not so much a matter of flu vaccine brand as flu season. Some flu seasons, the researchers do a better job of predicting the flu strains that will be in circulation.

Some research suggests the quadrivalent vaccine offers better protection than the trivalent vaccine. As the name suggests, the quadrivalent vaccine casts a wider net, covering four influenza strains. The trivalent vaccine protects against three strains of the flu. For wider coverage, you may prefer to receive the quadrivalent shot.  But ultimately, any FDA-approved flu vaccine is going to be safe and effective.

Will the flu vaccine definitely prevent me from getting the flu?

No vaccine or medicine is 100% effective. However, flu vaccination reduces your chance of becoming infected by up to 60%. If you do catch the flu, you are less likely to suffer from severe illness and hospitalization.

Flu vaccine side effects

The most common flu vaccine side effect is soreness at the site of the injection. Rarely, people experience mild effects, such as low-grade fever, body aches, and fatigue. Though unpleasant, these symptoms pale in comparison to the flu. Flu vaccine benefits far outweigh the risk.

Common flu symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, chills, and body aches

Complications and symptoms of the Flu

Common symptoms of the flu are far more severe than flu vaccine side effects.  These symptoms include high fever, cough, fatigue, body aches, and chills.  Sometimes more serious complications arise, such as:

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Asthma flare-ups
  • Heart problems
  • Worsening of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • And even death

Flu complications are more likely among the very young, very old, and those with chronic disease. However, even healthy people occasionally become severely ill with influenza.  

Can I get the flu shot and COVID vaccine at the same time?

The CDC recently announced it is safe to administer the COVID-19 and flu vaccines together.  The 14-day wait between vaccines is no longer required.

“We believe flu vaccination is very important in the context of ongoing COVID-19 activity,” said Lisa Grohskopf, MD, an officer in the CDC’s Influenza Division. “Substantial flu activity occurring at the same time as COVID-19 activity could overwhelm our health care systems,” she added.

The CDC encourages every one to continue getting their flu vaccine during the pandemic.  This ensures hospitals aren’t overburdened with flu patients during the COVID-19 outbreak.   You can get a COVID-19 vaccine and anti-flu shot during the same consultation.

COVID vs. Flu

COVID-19 and influenza are both contagious respiratory infections. Both can affect your lungs and breathing, and spread easily to others. Many symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 overlap, but they are caused by two different viruses.

It can be difficult to distinguish between the two viruses. In most cases, COVID symptoms are more severe and last longer than the flu. Also, mind the date. Flu season in the Philippines runs from June to November. If you’re outside this window, your symptoms are less likely to be influenza. However, the only way to be sure is to seek medical advice. A COVID-19 test may be needed for accurate diagnosis.

If flu-like symptoms last three days, the Philippine DOH urges you to contact your barangay health response team. Both viruses spread quickly, so prompt diagnosis and treatment is best.

Is it better to get sick with the flu to build my immune system?

No. Influenza can be very serious. Flu infection carries the risk of complications, including death, even among healthy adults. That risk outweighs any perceived benefits to your immune system.

It’s worth noting, your body doesn’t respond to the flu virus like other microbes. Because the flu mutates continuously, your body never establishes immunity to it. You can contract the flu many times in the course of a lifetime. Getting sick with the flu now won’t give you immunity later. You need a yearly anti-flu shot for that.

What to do when you have the flu?

If you have risk factors for serious infection, book a doctor’s consultation as soon as you feel symptoms. High-risk groups should take certain precautions, such as antiviral flu medications. While there is no flu cure, these medicines can help stave off the flu.  Treatment must begin within 48-hours to be effective.

Antivirals should not be confused with antibiotics, which fight bacterial illnesses. Antibiotics are given if you develop complications of influenza, such as pneumonia or otitis media. You need a doctor’s prescription to begin a course of antiviral flu medication.

Not sure what to do when you have the flu and no risk factors? If your symptoms are mild, the Philippines DOH recommends the following flu home treatment:

  • Paracetemol for fever. Children should never take aspirin due to the risk of Reye’s Syndrome, a life-threatening illness.
  • Adequate rest.
  • Drink more fluids and eat nutritional foods.
  • If flu-like symptoms persist 3 days, seek medical assistance to rule out COVID-19 infection.

What about the "bird flu"?

Beyond the seasonal flu, you may have heard about “bird flu”, also known as avian flu. The anti-flu vaccine does not protect against avian flu. However, avian flu is extremely rare in humans. It mostly spreads from bird to bird. While bird flu outbreaks can devastate local farmers, it is rare that an avian strain jumps to humans.

Flu vaccination in the workforce

The CDC recommends offering a free on-site flu vaccine for employees. Influenza costs employers billions of dollars each year, in both direct costs and lost productivity. Hospitalizations and outpatient treatment alone cost around US$ 10.4 billion. Consider making vaccination a part of your business wellness plan for employees. You can prevent flu in the workplace, protecting your workers and your bottom line.

Things to remember about the flu

  • The flu can be dangerous for seniors, young children, and people with chronic health conditions
  • The flu can be prevented through the anti-flu vaccine.
  • You need a vaccine every year.
  • The anti-flu shot is safe.
  • Flu season in the Philippines is from June to November.  
  • The best time to get a flu vaccine in the Philippines is in April and May.