Flu season is here. Are we ready?

Flu season is here. Are we ready?

Data suggests that 2020 had only about 2,752 seasonal influenza (H1N1) cases in the country

Representative Image. Credit: iStock Photo

With temperatures dipping in various parts of the country and heavy rainfall occurring in a few regions, we might witness the onset of increased common cold and flu. Weather experts say this year, La Nina (cooling phase of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon) will bring colder, wetter winter months. This reason is why people may get down with the seasonal Flu more often in 2021.

How is Covid-19 affecting flu?

The symptoms of Covid-19 and common cold/flu overlap, with similar ones being – fever, body ache, chills, sore throat, fatigue, etc. Covid-19 has an array of distinguishing signs like loss of smell and taste, among others. Last year barely saw an uptick or rise in the number of flu cases. This can be attributed to the following:

Physical distancing
Wearing masks
Maintaining hand hygiene
Increased emphasis on hygiene and cleanliness in public/shared spaces
Less travelling, avoiding crowds

Data suggests that 2020 had only about 2,752 seasonal influenza (H1N1) cases in the country. However, 2019, the year before the pandemic, had as many as 28,798 such cases. India is not the only country with such fewer numbers of flu in these pandemic years. Multiple medical journals and scientists have stated that many countries did not see the seasonal flu epidemic.

While it may seem like a good mark, epidemiologists are divided over whether we should be happy about it. Limited or no testing for influenza can be one reason for the vast difference in numbers. Thus, we cannot really be sure of the actual statistics, unless people get tested more often. Moreover, reduced absence of circulation of and exposure to pathogens such as the influenza virus and the respiratory syncytial virus (which causes severe pneumonia) can decrease herd immunity. This adverse effect, in turn, may stimulate more severe, virulent epidemics.

However, the relaxation of Covid-19 norms, resumption of physical settings like schools and offices, and reduced cases of coronavirus infection may further stem influenza or flu this year. In addition, due to low numbers from last year, scientists cannot really predict which flu strains will be primarily dominant this season. Hence, it is essential we stay alert and take the necessary precautions against the disease.

Tips for protection against flu:

Get vaccinated annually. The flu vaccine is equally important as the Covid-19 vaccine. It is crucial that adults, children, the elderly — everyone get their flu jabs. Pregnant women and children are highly vulnerable to influenza and pneumonia. We must prioritise their vaccination. The common side-effects from the vaccine may consist of pain at the injection site, fever, chills, etc. Both intramuscular injections and intranasal sprays for Flu are available for use.

Avoid touching your face. Don’t rub your eyes, nose, or mouth, so that germs are prevented from entering your body.

Stay away from sick people as much as possible, as flu is contagious, and stay home in case you’re feeling sick.

Maintain the streak of washing your hands and sanitising regularly.

Boost your immune system. Run or do other physical activities for 30 minutes a day, consume vitamins, antioxidants, and a nutrient-rich diet. Lastly, sleep for 7 hours at least.

(The writer is Chief Intensivist at a hospital in Mumbai)