There is a sudden dip in the temperature which is allowing the flu virus to spread and those who are immune compromised — suffering from uncontrolled diabetes, undergoing treatment for cancer, kidney transplant patients, senior citizens, children and pregnant women — have to exercise care. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that the flu season in 2018-19 winter months is expected to be worse and it is important to observe caution. The symptoms of sudden headache, fever, chills and sensations of vomiting must not be ignored and early caution is the best way to tackle the flu, states Dr Mahaboob Khan, professor and head of the department of pulmonology and superintendent of the Government General and Chest Hospital.
Q Why is caution and early care being insisted upon in cases of flu?
The symptoms of fever, body pain, cold, headache and also vomiting sensations start suddenly and it is found that the viral load increases within two to three days. Care can be exercised in terms of rest, balanced diet and sufficient intake of water. But there are those suffering from diabetes, undergoing treatment for cancer, having kidney problems, or are on steroids, who have a compromised immune system, and in them it can lead to a secondary disease which creates complications.
The other category which needs to be cautious is that of infants, children, senior citizens and pregnant women who are a vulnerable group. Caution ensures that complications at a later stage can be reduced, which helps in reducing the burden of aggressive treatment and also saving a life.
Q What are the secondary diseases caused due to flu and what are the complications?
The flu or influenza virus can cause self-limiting simple fevers where the virus dies on its own due to the response from the immune system. But that which persists for more than three to four days needs to be checked for swine flu or any other virus which could have caused it. The secondary infection starts when the virus activates the bacteria in the body and there is upper respiratory tract infection, pneumonia and also multi-organ failure. Multi-organ failure is seen in those cases where the lungs are very weak and it directly affects the heart, which then affects the kidney and liver.
Q What is the role of vaccines in preventing the flu?
The role of vaccines has been minimal in preventing the flu. So far, the vaccine has shown 40 per cent immunity. But the problem is that people think that if they are vaccinated they will be free from flu, which is not the case. The vaccine is advised only after evaluation and where it is found that the person is critical and the vaccine can help.
Q In the festive season, it is difficult for people to stay away from crowded places as is often advised. How is one to deal with this?
Wherever not required, people are advised not to go outside. At the same time, practising cough etiquette and washing one’s hands regularly are key. In India, the biggest problem is that we find people openly sneezing in offices or on the street and not covering their mouths. They spit in the open allowing for the virus to spread. One infected person in the crowd has the ability to spread the infection to 100 others.
1 Wear a mask to protect yourself in crowded places if you have a respiratory disease or your body is immune-compromised.
2 Ensure that you do not touch public handles, toilet door knobs and public utilities, as there are chances of the presence of the virus.
3 If you are constantly travelling by airplane, ensure that there is proper hand hygiene and follow cough etiquette. Similar rules apply to even crowded places.
4 Carry a hand sanitiser, as it will enable you to clean your hands regularly.
5 Practise self-isolation if you have flu symptoms, as the virus is self-limiting and isolation helps to contain the spread.
Q What is the treatment for flu?
The treatment for flu is symptomatic in nature. The stress is on reducing the viral load in the body. But with those who come with immune-compromised conditions, it is found that the bacteria is already active and their respiratory system is affected. They are often put on ventilator support if their condition is critical.
Otherwise there have been cases where isolation has helped, along with good rest, balanced diet and sufficient intake of water, to recover completely.