Flu shot, illustrative photo. via iStock

Flu season is coming to Prague, and it’s not too late to get vaccinated

The Czech Republic has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe, and serious flu cases have been rising

Now is the time to get a flu vaccine shot, according to health officials. By the time the virus becomes widespread, it will be too late for the vaccine to be effective.

The number of serious influenza cases has been on the rise Prague in recent years. During the 2018–19 season, it claimed 34 lives in Prague and 91 people were treated in the hospital. A year earlier there were 22 deaths and 77 severe cases.

With the onset of chilly autumn weather, Prague residents have started to come down with common infections such as runny noses and coughs. According to hygienists, about 800 people in 100,000 suffered from cold symptoms last week. The most affected are children under 5 years old, followed by schoolchildren.

These symptoms are caused by viruses other than influenza, but can serve as a reminder that time is running out. “I recommend using the appropriate time for getting the seasonal influenza vaccine shot,” Prague hygienist Zdeňka Jágrová said, according to daily Pražský deník.

Flu symptoms. illustrative photo. via iStock

She added that vaccination is the most effective prevention against influenza, but few people get it. “We are trying to gradually increase the vaccination rate, which in the Czech Republic reaches a level of around 5%,” she said, one of the lowest in Europe. People who have been vaccinated face a much lower risk of serious illness or death.

Vaccination is recommended especially for chronically ill people, who end up in the hospital most often due to the flu. Of the particularly severe cases that were hospitalized last year, 40% were people with chronic lung disease and 30% were diabetics.

For at-risk groups, including chronically ill people and those of 65 years of age, vaccinations are fully covered by General Health Insurance (VZP).

For people not defined as at risk, VZP pays up to 150 CZK. Many other insurers offer similar contributions, and some employers offer the vaccine as a benefit. The average cost of a flu shot is 400 CZK.

The Prague Hygiene Station (HSHMP) monitors the number of flu cases, and based on the level per 100,000 people declares when cases have reached an epidemic. This usually occurs at the end of January and start of February.

The number of cases generally rises steadily throughout the fall but tends to drop sharply right as winter starts, due to the Christmas holidays. Children are not in school and adults are not in offices, where germs can spread. Cases then spike sharply once people return to confined spaces.

To avoid getting the disease it is important to avoid contact with sick people. If that cannot be avoided, at least a meter distance should be maintained.

People should also avoid hospitals and waiting rooms if possible. Some hospitals have banned or restricted visits for flu patients.

More than ever, people should maintain a proper diet and get enough sleep. Washing hands with soap and not touching your eyes, nose and mouth with your bare hands also helps to reduce infection.

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Complications to flu can include pneumonia or bronchitis.

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