Flu in the Air
Flu is the commonest illness in rainy and winter seasons. Some may wonder what Flu is all about? The term ‘flu’ refers to a syndrome of malaise, fever, cold or cough. It is commonly caused by viruses, more commonly by Influenza viruses. Influenza virus commonly responsible for this flu like illness is called seasonal Influenza virus and the virus which was responsible for the PANDEMIC (outbreak of flu that spread to many countries) in 2009 was Swine flu virus. You may consider this a cousin of seasonal flu virus. Recently we heard deaths due to swine flu again in the city of Hyderabad.. So is flu so dangerous ? Flu caused by seasonal Influenza virus or Swine flu virus is usually a mild illness or sometimes patient may not develop any symptoms even if he or she is infected with these viruses. Rarely (one in a few thousands of patients infected with Influenza virus) these infections result in serious complications like pneumonia (infection spreading to lungs) resulting in shortness of breath requiring hospitalisation, oxygen therapy and in severe cases, may require ventilator support. Rarely these infections may result in death also. However, some people are increased risk of complications when infected with these flu viruses. Pregnant women, elderly people, diabetics, people with asthma, chronic bronchitis and chronic kidney disease etc are at increased risk of complications. Swine flu results in serious complications more often when compared to seasonal flu virus infection.
How does this flu spread? It spreads by air (when an infected patient coughs, virus spreads across to people in the surroundings), or by contact with an infected person. Hence simple precautions like covering your nose and mouth with a mask, staying away from people who are ill and frequent hand washing can prevent spread of flu to some extent. Once a person develops flu, treatment is usually symptomatic. Specific anti viral medication is available for swine flu though not very effective! Vaccination is available against both seasonal flu and swine flu viruses and it is strongly recommended for high risk populations mentioned above. Vaccine needs to be taken once a year and it is freely available in our country. It is not too expensive and relatively safe. As far as flu is concerned, Prevention is definitely better than Cure!
Dr.Hari Kishan B, MBBS,MD,DNB(CMC,Vellore)
Consultant Internal Medicine,
APollo Health City, Hyderabad