Everything you need to know about the H3N2 virus
With cases rising in the country, experts tell us what we need to protect ourselves from the new virus
With the changing seasons, temperate weather and increase in pollution, there has been an emergence of a new virus – H3N2. It is spreading in several parts of the country and while it is still in its nascent stage, the government is encouraging people to take precautions for themselves.
In a letter to the States and Union Territories, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan expressed his concerns over rising cases across the country. He said, “In order to limit transmission of these diseases, it is important to raise community awareness regarding adherence to respiratory and hand hygiene, promoting early reporting of symptoms, and limiting the contact of those people who are suffering from respiratory illness.”
The H3N2 virus is a subtype of the influenza A virus that causes respiratory illness in humans. This virus has been known to produce seasonal influenza outbreaks in the past, explains Dr Yogesh Gupta, Senior Physician/Geriatrician, Sterling Hospital.
This virus has been found to be contagious not only in humans but also in animals like birds and pigs, shares Dr Madhuri Mehendale, Gynecologist & Obstetrician, Zynova Shalby Hospital Mumbai, says, “This particular strain of the virus has the potential to mutate and give rise to new strains, which could be more dangerous to human health.”
The H3N2 virus is known to have caused a pandemic in 1968. Since then, it has caused epidemics in different parts of the world. Dr Shashikant Nigam, Consultant, Internal Medicine, Apollo Hospitals, Ahmedabad, says, “However, today, we are better prepared to deal with it. Chances of this virus becoming an epidemic are less likely. The government has already put in systems for mitigation. It is presumed that it will disappear by the end of March.”
With any respiratory viral disease, children, adults above 65 years, pregnant women, and those with comorbidities are at higher risk of infection. So far the number of cases, in India, is not too worrisome. However, Dr Amit Kaul, HOD & Senior Consultant Pediatrics, Surya Mother & Child Super Speciality Hospital, Pune, explains, “H3N2 is a normal variant of influenza virus. This year, post covid-19, due to lack of exposure and lack of immunity, it is causing more severe infections.”
Therefore, it is crucial to understand the potential risks associated with the virus.
The symptoms of H3N2 infection are comparable to those of other influenza viruses. Continuous coughing and difficulty in breathing are warning signs. The prolong cough can last for three to four weeks.
runny or stuffy nose
fatigue and lethargy
Experts recommend including the similar precautionary measures that was followed during Covid-19 Use masks especially in crowded indoor spaces like malls, movie theatres, auditoriums, etc. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze says Dr Shashikant Nigam, Consultant, Internal Medicine, Apollo Hospitals, Ahmedabad and also avoiding contact with those who are sick. He also advises that one should stay at home if they are ill to stop the spread of the virus.
“Apart from this, avoid high sugar and salt-containing food items to reduce dehydration. Drink plenty of water, and eat fruits and green leafy vegetables. Take adequate rest and sleep well, shares Dr Yogesh Gupta, Sr. Physician/Geriatrician, Sterling Hospital.
Precautions to prevent the spread of H3N2 virus include frequently rinsing hands with soap and water,
The virus is mainly symptomatic unless confirmed on viral culture via a RTPCR. Dr Shashikant Nigam, Consultant, Internal Medicine, Apollo Hospitals, Ahmedabad says, “Oseltamivir (antiviral) is the usual prescribed drug that is used for treatment of H3N2. But, until a blood report shows any sign of secondary infection, antibiotics should not be taken.”
This medication can help reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten the duration of illness when taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. “However, antiviral medications are not a substitute for vaccination and should not be used to prevent the spread of the virus, explains Dr Yogesh Gupta, Sr. Physician/Geriatrician, Sterling Hospital. Vaccination is an effective method for preventing the spread of H3N2 virus and other influenza viruses. But the current flu vaccine offers no protection against the H3N2 virus.
Kids & the virus
The virus affects people of all age groups. However, kids can be more susceptible to infections. Dr Amit Kaul, HOD & Senior Consultant Pediatrics, Surya Mother & Child Super Speciality Hospital, Pune say, “Kids with asthma and comorbid illnesses such as obesity, neurological problems, and heart diseases are at increased risk of getting infected.”
In children, some of the earliest symptoms can go under the radar as parents may not always consult with medical professionals for cough, mild to moderate fever, or sore throat for children. Fever in this case could go as high as 104-105 F and could be couple with other symptoms like vomiting, loose motions. In some extreme cases, kids can also have convulsions. These symptoms are sometimes prolonged and can last up to 2 weeks.
“It’s recommended for children under the age group to get the yearly influenza vaccine to help develop immunity. Children must not be sent to school if they display symptoms,” shares Kaul.
Pregnant women and the virus
Women, during pregnancy, are at an elevated risk of contracting the H3N2 virus. It can lead to severe health consequences so it is imperative that if they exhibit symptoms to seek medical attention, shares Dr Madhuri Mehendale, Gynecologist & Obstetrician, Zynova Shalby Hospital, Mumbai. “
While the treatment for pregnant women, who are infected are similar to everyone else, they must prioritize rest, nutrition, and water intake. Avoid exposure to other sick individuals as well.