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November 17, 2019

High time to prepare for expected emergence of influenza virus


November 17, 2019

Islamabad :This is the most appropriate time for vaccination against seasonal flu and particularly for the high risk population to be vaccinated against impending appearance of seasonal ‘influenza A’ disease that appear in winter every year, assume the epidemic forms and cause considerable morbidity and mortality.

The only recommended protective measure for prevention is that people must get themselves and their near and dear ones vaccinated against the disease since the vaccine is available in the market against influenza A, causing seasonal flu that is developed from the strains of viruses circulating in the world in previous year and the new vaccine comes in the market in October each year.

Epidemiologist Dr Muhammad Najeeb Durrani who is Member Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) expressed this while talking to ‘The News’ on vaccination against flu that according to health experts is the most effective and the only way to prevent infection and severe outcomes caused by influenza viruses.

At the same time, the health authorities must direct the hospitals to show a high level of preparedness for the upcoming high transmission season of influenza A virus by developing standard isolation units, stockpiling of PPEs (personal protective equipment), capacity building of hospital staff in the art of infection control and adopting barrier nursing techniques, procuring sufficient viral transport media and reagents for labs from the National Institute of Health, said Dr. Durrani, former District Health Officer Islamabad.

Otherwise in the coming months, December and January, there may be a huge burden of patients of the disease in different parts of country, he said.

After the appearance of Influenza Pandemic of ‘A H1N1 in 2009’, wrongly called swine flu, the same infection is now called seasonal flu has become a regular feature appearing almost each year since 2011. This disease has caused considerable morbidity and mortality in previous three years in the months of December and January. Last year there have been reports of confirmed cases in Punjab, while in Multan scores of people have contracted the disease with many casualties, said Dr. Durrani.

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 65 years or older, pregnant women, younger children of less than two years of age, and people with certain health conditions such as chronic heart, lung, kidney, liver, blood or metabolic diseases like diabetes, or weakened immune systems, are at high risk of serious flu complications. Besides these people the health care providers serving in the hospitals and clinics are also at a greater risk.

Dr. Durrani said that this is important to note that around 90 per cent of the cases that do not fall in the high risk category recover without any medical intervention. Like other flu strains, self-segregation and home based treatment is recommended for most of the cases of seasonal flu however in case a patient develops any complications, he or she must report immediately to the nearest hospital, he said.

He said the community should be educated to know the respiratory protocols to respect others and cover their faces with tissue papers while sneezing or coughing to prevent others from infection and also to properly dispose of the infected or used tissues and wash hands frequently.

Head of Department of Infectious Diseases at Holy Family Hospital Rawalpindi Dr. Muhammad Mujeeb Khan said the ideal time for vaccination against influenza A virus is the end of October to the beginning of November.

The experts say that the health departments should immunize their health care workers as a first priority to protect the essential health infrastructure. However it is important to mention here that sometimes a new variant or strain of Influenza virus could appear for which existing flu vaccine may not be effective.

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