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Influenza-A, not Covid-19, making people sick: NIH

Thousands of Influenza like illness (ILI) cases are being reported in country, NIH Islamabad says

By M Waqar Bhatti
January 03, 2024
The NIH entrance can be seen in this image. — Facebook/National Institutes of Health Pakistan
The NIH entrance can be seen in this image. — Facebook/National Institutes of Health Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Its H3N2 sub-type of Influenza-A virus, not Covid-19, causing severe respiratory illness to the adults across Pakistan.

Thousands of Influenza like illness (ILI) cases are being reported on daily basis in the country, National Institute of Health (NIH) Islamabad said Tuesday.

Among children, it is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) which is causing illness across Pakistan, NIH officials said. They urged people to take precautionary measures, including coughing etiquette, to prevent themselves from contracting respiratory illnesses.

“No, it is not Covid-19 that is making people sick these days in Pakistan. Our surveillance and testing indicates it is H3N2 sub-type of Influenza-A which is making people sick in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, many cities of Sindh and most of Punjab these days”, a senior official of NIH told The News.

The health official said people were blaming Covid-19 for respiratory illness. Covid-19 positivity remained less than 1 percent during last week when only 16 cases were detected across Pakistan after 3,609 tests conducted, he claimed. Majority of people were neither getting tested for Covid-19 nor for the Influenza like illness, he added.

Severe Acute Respiratory Infections (SARI) was being reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, the NIH official said.

According to NIH data, around 46,000 cases of Influenza like illness (ILI) were reported in the country except Punjab during the 49th week of the year. The highest number of ILI cases was reported from Sindh where over 25,000 ILI were detected, KP reported 8,354 cases, Balochistan 7,856 cases and AJK 3,619 cases.

Punjab from where bulk of respiratory illnesses are being reported, don’t share its data with NIH Islamabad. So, the authorities don’t have any idea of the respiratory disease burden in the largest province of Pakistan.

Commenting on Influenza outbreak in Pakistan, renowned infectious diseases expert Dr Faisal Sultan said Influenza is being diagnosed more (due to availability of PCR at many centres). “It is sometimes prolonged with weeks of fatigue associated with it”, he said.

“By "always", it’s known in some instances it can have a prolonged convalescence. Additionally, the vulnerable parts of the population (elderly or with other heart or lung conditions) will have more complications (bacterial pneumonia)”, Dr Sultan said.

Health experts and pulmonologists in Karachi also confirmed Influenza-A was most commonly being detected in the city as compared to Covid-19. It was causing severe disease to elderly people with comorbids (having other diseases like diabetes, hypertension etc.), they said.

“Mostly, it is Influenza. We have seen entire families infected with flu like symptoms in Karachi. We have found Infleunza-A virus as the cause of respiratory illness, sometimes causing hospitalisation of elderly with comorbids. In young adults it is self-limiting, which means they recover on their own”, Dr Raeef Ahmed, a pulmonologist in Karachi, said.

He urged people not to use antibiotics for the treatment of flu. He said they had found good results of an antiviral medicine Tammy Flu among hospitalised adults.

To a query regarding availability of flu shots or Influenza vaccine, he said vaccine against Influenza was not available in the market. Now, it was a bit late for getting vaccinated against flu, he added.

Renowned epidemiologist Dr Rana Muhammad Safdar urged people to adopt same precautions which they used during Covid-19 pandemic to prevent themselves from contracting respiratory illness.

“Poor air quality, smog in Punjab, federal capital, Khyber Pakhtunkha and other areas adds to chances of respiratory illnesses. It is not Covid-19, but flu viruses, which are making people sick”, he said. He advised the people to gargle with lukewarm saltwater before going to bed to prevent chances of throat infection.