The flu season is approaching. Are you prepared? Here's what doctor suggests
In India the flu virus circulation peaks during the monsoon season, with secondary peaks during the winter months from November to February. Here's what you need to know since the winter influenza symptoms are the same as Covid-19
Influenza or ‘flu’ as it is commonly called, has caused massive global pandemics and resulted in uncountable deaths globally since it is a highly transmissible infection affecting both adults and children. Just a sneeze or a cough is enough to start the transmission, should the minuscule droplets fall on someone’s face, mouth or eyes and in India, the flu virus circulation peaks during the monsoon season, with secondary peaks during the winter months from November to February.
The transmission can be halted by following simple hygiene measures such as use of masks in crowded places and frequent handwashing like during the Covid-19 pandemic, because of the government restrictions and guidelines, these measures were followed consistently which resulted in decrease of flu cases. However, as the restrictions eased, people went back to their old habits which led to a rise in flu cases last winter hence, we need stronger protection against this infection and this can be provided by the annual WHO endorsed vaccination.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr (Major) Rajesh Bhardwaj, Consultant on Practo, highlighted, “Young children between the ages of 2 to 6 years, pregnant women, elderly and people suffering from pre-existing medical conditions like diabetes, asthma, pneumonia, or those on prolonged treatments such as cancer and dialysis are at a higher risk of the flu infection. For these individuals, the annual flu vaccination before the seasonal onset of the virus becomes a high priority.”
Talking about flu vaccination and why is it needed annually, he said, “After two years of living with the pandemic, most of us are now well aware that respiratory viruses such as Covid-19 are capable of rapid mutation that impact the infection rate and severity. Similarly, the influenza virus also mutates every year and new strains are transmitted every flu season. The respiratory viruses are largely winter viruses and are more transmissible in the cold winter months. Flu vaccine manufacturers develop annual flu vaccines to protect against the strains likely to dominate in any given year. These annual vaccines should be taken every year to protect against the prevalent strains of the flu virus. Anyone above the age of 6 months can safely take the annual flu shot. Children who take the flu vaccine for the first time may need two doses spread 4 weeks apart for optimal protection.”
He shared, “The most common flu vaccines that are available in India, are quadrivalent vaccines that protect against two strains of influenza A and B each. These vaccines provide close to 60% protection against the infection. Even if a vaccinated person gets the infection, it is likely to be milder and recovery from it faster. Taking a vaccine now will prevent one from catching the Flu this winter season – it takes about two to three weeks before the immunity from the vaccine starts.”
However, there is a certain hesitancy regarding the flu vaccination and despite the glaring need, the coverage of flu vaccines in India is low. Dr (Major) Rajesh Bhardwaj explained, “There are concerns about the cost and side effects of the vaccine. There is a need to understand that though flu looks like a simple infection, it can have severe complications such as hospitalizations and deaths especially in children, ageing adults, and those with chronic conditions. The infection can also increase the risk of a heart attack by ten times and of stroke by eight times within a week following it. The vaccine can prevent these complications and reduce healthcare expenses. The flu vaccine is well researched and there are no major side effects. Minor side effects include mild fever and body ache for 2 days; these are much less serious than the flu or its complications.”
Some people may believe that they are protected from all respiratory infections after two shots of the Covid-19 vaccine. However, Dr (Major) Rajesh Bhardwaj said that this is not true. He said, “Flu is a different viral infection that requires a vaccine which is different from the Covid-19 vaccine. It is safe for people who have taken the Covid-19 vaccine to take the flu vaccine. So this winter be well prepared for the arrival of the flu. Your most effective protection is the annual flu vaccine. Since the winter flu symptoms are the same as Covid-19 it would be difficult to distinguish the two and getting Influenza in the winters would reduce your immunity and make you more prone to catch Covid-19 (specially for the vulnerable elderly). So stay healthy and stay safe for the sake of yourselves and your loved ones.”