Are we losing focus on influenza? 

Are we losing focus on influenza? 

There has been a consistent increase in the need for medical attention during the winter season, especially for cardiovascular diseases and respiratory infections. The latter plays a significant role in morbidity in the country. One such seasonal infection impacting over 3.5 million severe cases globally is Influenza. In fact, about ~99,000 to ~200,000 deaths can be directly attributed to influenza.

It is evident that the current pandemic has burdened the healthcare infrastructure. With the onset of winters, respiratory illnesses such as seasonal influenza is a looming threat on the already burdened healthcare system.  Influenza and Covid-19 have similar symptoms such as cold, cough, fever, and loss of appetite making it difficult to diagnose. With the increasing number of Covid cases, air pollution and on-going festivities, it is important for everyone to be safe and healthy. 

Importance of Influenza vaccination

As a tropical country, Influenza is more important in India as it circulates year-round. Denser air in winters and increasing population pollution or population intensify the risk of infection. Fortunately, there is a combat mechanism to contain this vaccination.  Vaccination is the most effective strategy for infections and the current pandemic has reinforced its value as never before. According to WHO, Influenza vaccination must be prioritised for pregnant women, children (special precaution must be taken for the age group of 6 months to 5 years), elderly, individuals with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart conditions, and healthcare workers. 

Even during the ongoing pandemic, Influenza vaccination is safe to be administered and can prevent severe disease and complications from the latest strains. The risk of catching flu reduces to 0.9% as compared to 7% without vaccination.  

The co-morbid correlation

Influenza as a condition is an additional threat for people who are living with existing co-morbidities like Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs), Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). In winters, due to the cold weather and brooding air pollution, the condition may worsen leaving the individuals in a vulnerable state. Coupled with influenza their conditions might deteriorate causing a compromise in their quality of life or may even be fatal.

Furthermore, influenza also contributes as a trigger to Non-Communicable Diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. As it happens, influenza vaccination can also help reduce the risk of heart attack by 15-45%. Hence, as these individuals are more susceptible to Influenza, they should be administered with the latest strain of influenza vaccine on priority. 

Additionally, the elderly or people in the high-risk group who are unable to visit hospitals/clinics should opt for home services that are provided by hospitals and ensure they do not miss their annual influenza vaccination. 

Given the current pandemic, we need to prevent and be protected from influenza. We as a country need to observe this threat of influenza and take an immediate preventive measure.  As we all know, vaccines help the immune system develop a protection shield in our body against diseases. An influenza vaccine is far long developed and despite the pandemic, it is indeed the right time to immunize ourselves for better precaution in such crucial times.

(The writer is HOD and Consultant, Pulmonology, Sleep Medicine Specialist, in a hospital in Bengaluru)