Sunday April 02, 2023

High time to prepare for expected emergence of influenza A virus

November 28, 2022

Islamabad : This is the most appropriate time to get the high-risk population vaccinated against the impending appearance of seasonal ‘influenza A’ disease that appears in winter every year, assumes the epidemic forms, and causes considerable morbidity and mortality.

According to many health experts, the only recommended protective measure for prevention from influenza A virus is that people must get themselves vaccinated against the disease since the vaccine is available in the market against influenza A. The vaccine is developed from the strains of viruses circulating in the world in the previous year and the new vaccine comes in the market in October each year.

Epidemiologist Dr. Muhammad Najeeb Durrani who is a member international body of epidemiologists, GOARN (Global Outbreak Alert & Response Network) expressed to ‘The News’ that the vaccine gives protection for one year against seasonal flue The disease season starts in winter. Health care providers, children under five, pregnant women, the elderly, and those having co-morbid conditions including heart or kidney disease or those who are immuno-compromised including patients suffering from diabetes are most at risk and they should get themselves vaccinated at the time.

It is important that the disease has caused considerable morbidity and mortality in the past years in the months of December and January. It is the same disease that had affected thousands of people globally and was named Influenza A H1 N1 2009 infection the same virus has somehow or the other become less virulent with mutation of the virus and addition of other strains and is now known as Seasonal Flu, the world over.

Dr. Durrani said in the coming months, particularly December and January. there is expected a huge burden of the disease in different parts of the country and it is time to give due attention to the health threat. After the appearance of the Influenza Pandemic of ‘An H1N1 in 2009’, wrongly called swine flu, now called seasonal flu has become a regular feature appearing each year for the last many years since 2011, he said.

He added that Influenza epidemics that are seriously affecting all populations can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, such as elderly people aged over 65 years, pregnant women, younger children of less than two years of age, and people with certain health conditions or weakened immune systems are at high risk of serious flu complications, he said.

Dr. Durrani said that over 90 per cent of the cases of seasonal flu that do not fall in the high-risk category recover without any medical intervention. Self-segregation and home-based remedies are recommended for most of cases.

He explained that Influenza viruses are constantly changing themselves for their best survival and to become more and more virulent but fortunately, over the years, the H1N1 infection has become less virulent but still it is circulating and is capable of causing high mortality in a segment of the population that is at high risk of developing severe complications.

It is pertinent to mention that the common cold is not flu even though they share the same symptoms and signs. However normally seasonal flu symptoms are more severe. The virus is transmitted through droplets when an infected person coughs, infected droplets get into the air and another person can breathe them in and is exposed. The virus can also be spread by hands contaminated from surfaces with influenza viruses. To prevent transmission, people should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing, and wash their hands regularly and frequently besides keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from a person with flu. Seasonal influenza spreads easily and can cause infections through schools, barracks, nursing homes, offices, factories, and hostels. Besides that air remains a very important risk factor.

Studies reveal that vaccination is the most effective and the only way to prevent infection and severe outcomes caused by influenza viruses. Safe and effective vaccines are available and have been used for more than 60 years. Among healthy adults, the influenza vaccine can provide reasonable protection. However, among the elderly, the influenza vaccine may be less effective in preventing illness but may reduce the severity of the disease and the incidence of complications and deaths.