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Flu epidemic : causes, prevention and immunization

Jan 16, 2020

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), seasonal influenza is characterized by a sudden onset of fever, cough (usually dry), headache, muscle and joint pain, severe malaise (feeling unwell), sore throat and a runny nose. The cough can be severe and can last 2 or more weeks. Illnesses range from mild to severe and even death. Worldwide, these annual epidemics are estimated to result in about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and about 290 000 to 650 000 deaths due to respiratory distress.(1)

The illness can be debilitating and represents significant socio-economic burden and indirect costs, such as the loss of working days or school absenteeism for children. Patients’ quality of life is affected, with direct impact on their family and social life.


The most effective way to prevent the disease is vaccination. Safe and effective vaccines are available and have been used for more than 60 years. A yearly vaccination is recommended for patients at risk of flu complications, and especially as the influenza strain A or B changes from year to year, as well as the subspecies. In total 60 different types of influenza viruses have been identified.

WHO recommends annual vaccination for:

  • Pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy
  • Children aged between 6 months to 5 years
  • Elderly individuals (aged more than 65 years)
  • Individuals with chronic medical conditions
  • Healthcare workers

Thus the best approach to limit the spread of influenza during the epidemic season remains the prevention thanks to vaccination.