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Beware of the virus in the air

A sudden change in the weather is leading to a spurt in cases of viral fever, throat infections and cold and cough. Sidhartha Dutta reports. Quiz: Are you suffering from a seasonal infection?

health and fitness Updated: Jul 15, 2013 01:01 IST
Sidhartha Dutta
Sidhartha Dutta
Hindustan Times

The air is chock-a-block with viruses that cause just about everything — from the ubiquitous common cold and fever, to gastrointestinal infections to dengue and malaria.

The current outbreak, however, is being caused by a mild viral strain that is causing symptoms of cough, cold, bodyache and fever that lasts for five to seven days after which infected people get better on their own.

People showing up at doctors’ clinics with fever have almost doubled over the past week, now accounting for more than half the patients needing treatment. The sudden change in weather, along with schools reopening after the summer break, are causing the sudden spurt in symptoms of viral fever and throat infections. The warm, wet weather - high humidity with temperatures between 25 and 30 degree Celsius -- is ideal for bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms to multiply, which sometimes cause twin infections. Even at tertiary care hospitals such as Safdarjung, 50-60% patients in the out-patient department and 70% in the emergency have viral fever.

Experts, say you should look for “localising symptoms” that indicate the underlying cause of the fever. A cough, running or blocked nose and a sore throat indicate an upper respiratory tract infection, while diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach-ache are symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection. Since viruses cause these illnesses, the disease is self-limiting and at most, needs symptomatic treatment such as paracetamol to bring down the fever or medicines to treat the cough and cold.

“Children, people over 70 years and people with existing conditions such as diabetes, cancer or people on steroids are at a higher risk of getting viral infections. They should watch their diet and take precautions to protect themselves in crowded places,” said Dr Rommel Tickoo, senior consultant, internal medicine, Max Hospital, Saket.

Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, senior consultant, internal medicine, at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals said cases of high-grade fever, joint pain and bodyache have become a common occurance over the past week. “People should drink boiled water and should be careful with air conditioners as the body needs to acclimatise to fluctuating weather conditions,” said Dr Chatterjee.

Since all fevers are dehydrating, doctors advise patients to drink at least three litres of liquids in the form of water, lemonade, coconut water or buttermilk to maintain the body’s electrolyte balance. A mix of warm water, honey and lemon with sugar and a pinch of salt provides great relief.

Viral infections cannot be treated using antibiotics. “Paracetamol is the safest medicine for fever, while for cough and cold, anti-allergic medicines are prescribed. Antibiotics are prescribed only if the fever doesn’t subside and there is evidence of bacterial infections,” added Dr Tickoo.

“The best way to avoid infection is to stay away from people with cough, cold or fever and wash your hands frequently to minimize contamination from infected surfaces, such as door handles, tabletops, keyboards etc,” said Dr Anil Bansal, senior physician and member of the Delhi Medical Council.

Consult a doctor if the fever stays over 102 degrees F for more than three days as rash, breathlessness, chills and vomiting could be signs of a more serious illness, such as dengue or malaria.

Even if it’s dengue, there is no need to panic as dengue needs hospilisation in just 1 per cent of cases.

Viral fever facts

What is viral fever?
Viral fever is an acute viral infection. The most common viral fever is the seasonal flu. Children can catch viral fever easily. The virus spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also spread by physical contact through hands infected with the virus. When viral infections are very common, such as during seasonal changes, they can be carried through air ventilation systems.

How will I know if my child has viral fever?
Usually, the first signs of viral fever are chills. Another early sign is a fever of 100 to 103 degree F. A child with viral fever will often have pain throughout the body, especially in the back and legs. There are different kinds of viral infections and symptoms will vary depending on the virus.

How can I protect my child from viral fever?
Try to keep your child away from anyone who is sick. If anyone around your child is coughing or sneezing, ask them to cover their mouths and noses and to wash their hands with soap regularly. If a family member has diarrhoea or is vomiting, make sure they also wash their hands frequently and follow good hygiene. Wash your child’s hands with soap often.

How are viral infections different from bacterial infections?
A bacterial infection is characterised by redness, heat, swelling and pain in one part of the body. So, if your child has bacterial throat pain, he will have more pain on one side of the throat. Bacterial infections are usually treated with a special antibiotic, which only kills the bacterium that caused the disease. Viral infections, however, involve different parts of the body at the same time. So, if your child has a viral infection, he may have a running nose, cough and body aches. Antibiotics have no effect on viral infections like cold or flu. Only use antibiotics for bacterial infections that won’t get better on their own.

Quiz: Are you suffering from a seasonal infection?

First Published: Jul 15, 2013 00:19 IST