Udayavni Special

Influenza: Let’s prevent what can be prevented


Team Udayavani, Mar 17, 2021, 9:33 AM IST

Credit: Reuters photo

Influenza, a contagious respiratory illness, affects thousands of people every year. Seasonal influenza is the greatest threat to global health. With health and continuing challenges in influenza, there is seasonal alert in India from June to September.

As per WHO, India falls in the southern hemisphere season (monsoon peak), which begins April onwards, making it the right time to take the flu vaccination. But India being a huge country, some parts of northern India fall in the northern hemisphere (winter peak). While flu is perennial in India, we see more cases in the summers and during the monsoons.

As per WHO, every year, there are up to 3.5 million severe cases of seasonal influenza worldwide, and about 290000 to 650000 estimated annual deaths occur due to lower respiratory tract infections that can be attributed to influenza.

Influenza cases have seen a lower threshold since the start of 2021 as people continued to practise precautionary measures post covid-19. While the greatly feared “twindemic” may not have caused the expected damage, it is critical to not ignore immunization against influenza. Thus, timely vaccination with the latest strains of influenza can boost protection and contain transmission.

When the first Influenza pandemic struck in 1918, there was no knowledge about the virus or any vaccinations to address it. Today, fortunately there are public health measures for immunization against influenza. While there are other preventive measures that can be considered, vaccination provides primary protection and is highly effective to prevent Acute Respiratory Illness (ARI). We now know that during the second phase lot of people died of Pneumonia in the Spanish flu. Hence we need to protect our elderly with the pneumococcal vaccine too.

Unfortunately, adults in India, often ignore vaccinations due to social economic reasons but according to WHO, Influenza vaccination must be prioritized for pregnant women, children (age group of 6 months to 5 years), elderly, individuals with chronic medical conditions like diabetes and asthma. Not to forget, influenza can cause serious health implications causing high mortality and morbidity.

Prioritising one’s vaccination schedule is of utmost importance. Influenza is highly communicable in nature; the vaccine should be made mandatory for everyone and especially with the ongoing covid-19 vaccine distribution. As it is safe to be administered even during the pandemic and can prevent severe disease and complication from the latest strains, it is recommended to run a mass immunization program with Influenza vaccine like current COVID-19 vaccination which will help break the chain of diseases from spreading and curtailing the transmission.

Even though adult immunization in India is gaining traction with the recent covid-19 inoculation drive, substantial improvements are required to increase awareness and reduce health consequences of vaccine-preventable diseases among adults. India, as a country needs to address the threat of influenza and take immediate preventive measures. An influenza vaccine is far long developed and despite the pandemic, it is indeed important and highly recommended to immunize ourselves as a precaution.

 

Authored by Dr. Kishore Kumar, Neonatologist – Founder and Chairman of Cloud nine Healthcare facility

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