How to safeguard your family from seasonal infections in the pandemic
As we brace ourselves to get back to work after the second wave of the pandemic, staying in good health is a top priority for everyone. The onset of the monsoon season makes it worse for those living with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and asthma, as they become more susceptible to serious infections during this time of the year.
The latest session of HT Spotlight, “Managing your health in the pandemic”, powered by Sanofi Pasteur, puts the focus on a discussion on how to keep yourself healthy during the pandemic, especially with the onset of the monsoon season which brings with it all kinds of seasonal illnesses.
The session saw attendance from actor and Mrs. World, Dr. Aditi Govitrikar, who is also a qualified medical doctor and psychologist, and Dr. Hemant P Thacker, Consultant Physician, and CardioMetabiolic Specialist, who is attached to several premier hospitals in Mumbai including Jaslok, Breach Candy and Reliance HN hospital.
The Govitrikar family has taken a 360-degree approach towards wellness, with a focus on physical as well as mental health. “I did get vaccinated at the right time which was the most important thing. In addition, I also made sure that whenever we step out, all the family members double mask and that we wash our hands every time we come from outside,” said Govitrikar.
The circulating strains of the Influenza virus change every season. Based on the Influenza vaccination Zone, WHO has grouped India under Tropical Asia Zone and has recommended Southern Hemisphere (SH) vaccine is the ideal vaccine for India. The peak season of flu starts in mid-summer to monsoons in the larger part of the country, thus making these seasons the right time to vaccinate against flu.
“We have included immunity-boosting foods in our diet and have also started some supplements. As a psychologist, I understand the importance of mental health. With anxiety running high, we have also included a meditation hour into our daily family routine,” she added.
Many adults suffer from chronic illnesses and lifestyle diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and asthma, which makes them more prone to falling sick at this time.
The monsoon season brings with it environmental change with fluctuating temperatures and high humidity levels. “This increases the likelihood of viruses, gastroenteritis, and all sorts of bacterial and viral infections. The vulnerable, which is the 60 plus population and children, have to be on guard and treat at the first sign of infection and more than that, prevent infection,” said Dr. Thacker.
Influenza can aggravate underlying conditions and put you at a greater risk for other health complications. Dr. Govitrikar said that people with diabetes are 3-6 times more likely to be hospitalized due to influenza and the risk of death from influenza-related complications is also 6 times higher.
“Ageing starts at 30-35 years in countries where there is a lot of stress and you are going to have lifestyle diseases creeping in. Diabetics or patients with lifestyle diseases like hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and other lifestyle problems will find it difficult to shrug off infections, whether it is a viral or bacterial infection. Such people are susceptible and if they don’t look after themselves, they will be the first targets,” he added.
So, how effective is the flu shot? In India, the term vaccination applies to only children. But, we forget that senior citizens are as vulnerable as children especially with their chronic conditions. Vaccination means prevention and we vaccinate to protect the two edges of society – the pediatric and geriatric.
“With changing weather, influenza is persistent and can hit you sooner, easier, and harder. In such a situation, if you can get a shot of the influenza vaccine, it will at least put that issue out of your mind and downregulate it. So, even if you get the flu, it is of a mild variety,” said Dr. Thacker.
Dr. Govitrikar asked the doctor if her septuagenarian mother, who has taken the flu shot last year and then the Covid-19 shot this year, needs to take the flu shot again. The doctor compared the flu shot should be synched with the mango season!
“The flu shot has to be taken annually. Just because you have taken one doesn’t mean you will remain protected. This is because the viruses making up the shot keep changing and World Health Organisation (WHO) keeps changing the composition of the vaccine accordingly,” said Dr. Thacker.
A few days gap between the flu shot and the Covid-19 vaccine is recommended. “The CDC has changed their recommendation and are even saying you can take both together. But, I know from experience and from our previous recommendations that you are better off with a two-week gap. This way, you are not overburdening the immune system to make antibodies,” he added.
Hospitals today are taking extra measures to keep medics as well as patients safe, especially after the new Delta variant has become a cause for worry in the country.
“We need to learn to live with Covid. We are not going to be able to destroy it or dismiss it. But you down regulate the Covid virus so much that it becomes innocuous just like the flu. But, until that happens, Covid appropriate behavior is of paramount importance,” said Dr Thacker.
Covid and influenza put together, along with the other hazards of monsoon illnesses, can be dangerous. But with some simple tips, you can protect yourself. Doctors advise you to go out only if you have to, use full protection if you really need to step out not just for Covid but also, monsoon, drink boiled water, eat cooked food, and report to the doctor immediately if you fall sick.
The middle-aged members of the family are going to be the drivers of ensuring the wellbeing of the family – they need to look after their parents and children too. For children, make sure that all vaccinations are up to date, including the flu shot. Even for the elderly, make sure that the vaccines are up to date. Avoid crowded areas and wear your masks. “People with double vaccinations can also get hit by a strain. So better to be safe than sorry,” said Dr. Thacker.
Eating healthily and exercise are equally important for a fit body. Ensure that your Vitamin C and Zinc levels are within safe limits and get adequate rest. “To keep yourself healthy, look at yourself as a holistic being. Start looking at your physical health as well as mental health. Being a mental health professional, I am aware of how stress can affect your immune system. Also, sitting is the new smoking so avoid sitting for long hours and get up and walk around for 5 minutes in between – that will keep you healthy,” said Dr. Govitrikar.
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Disclaimer - Issued in public interest by Sanofi Pasteur. This information does not constitute any medical advice, opinion or recommendation by Sanofi India Limited for the handling of a specific situation and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining medical advice from a licensed health care practitioner. This medical information is provided as an information resource only. MAT-IN-2102776