This is the season for viral fevers. Cynics may say: "Which season is NOT?" Yes, it is true that viral fevers have become more common these days, than say, two decades ago. Viruses attack us more easily when our immunity is lowered due to faulty eating habits, overwork, overcrowding and stress.
But viruses have a seasonality, and the monsoon is one time when viral fevers are very prevalent.
Viral respiratory infections are the commonest cause of viral fever. The viral fever that has currently gripped various cities in India causes typical ‘flu-like’ symptoms like fever, body and headache, throat pain, a runny nose and cough. In a usual case, the fever subsides in three to five days, weakness in a week and cough in two weeks.
However, cough with congestion can really take a very long time to recover. It is very annoying, but it is a part of this viral syndrome. If you are expecting it, it is easier to accept it. Antibiotics are usually not required. The old adage that with a flu you will recover in a week if you take antibiotics and in seven days if you don’t, is very true. But things get more troublesome when the patient has an allergic tendency. In this situation, the fever usually is not higher nor remains longer. Nor are viral infections more common in an allergic patient. But there is much more coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. The cough and wheeze produced by the virus in an allergic person can last between four and eight weeks. This tires him out and really tests his patience.
The treatment is supportive. There is no specific medicine to ‘kill’ the virus. Anti pyretics (like Crocin or Combiflam) are required to control the fever and body aches. Drinking plenty of warm fluids like warm water, tea and coffee is helpful. Clear chicken soup is particularly useful. Ginger water and honey helps. These help the cough much more than cough syrups.
If there is too much wheeze, broncho-dilators may be required. These could be taken orally (tablets or syrups) or with inhalers or nebulizers. Nebulizers are often required for very small children or elderly people.
Also remember that antibiotics are not required for viral fevers. They cannot kill the virus. But they do kill the bodies’ good bacteria.
Overuse of antibiotics also causes drug resistance. High fever or severity of symptoms alone is no reason to start on a course of antibiotics. We all are so overworked and can’t afford to take leave and take rest, so we often pester the doctor to give us ‘strong medicine’ or antibiotics with the hope that this will make us better faster. That really does not help.
The doctor must be consulted in the following situations:
Very young children or elderly patients
Existing diseases like diabetes or severe heart or lung disease
Shortness of breath or chest pain
Very high fever
Fever not settling in 5 days
Frequently wash your hands. Use soap and water or alcohol-based hand gels. Viruses are transmitted to the mouth by touching infected surfaces. They do not have wings and don’t float around or fly or remain suspended in air for a long period.
Use separate hand towels.
Keep a safe distance from anyone who has a viral fever.
Flu vaccine helps, but only against particular strains of a single virus. Ask your doctor if you require a flu vaccine.
(Dr Vikram Jaggi is medical director at Asthma Chest Allergy Centres, Delhi)
From HT Brunch, August 7
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