Monday , July 22 2024

Seasonal Influenza : A Challenge to Health

Introduction:

Seasonal influenza, a recurrent respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses, casts a formidable shadow across the global health landscape. This acute illness, varying in severity from mild to fatal outcomes, remains a ubiquitous concern affecting individuals worldwide. Despite its year-round presence, seasonal influenza takes on a more pronounced role during specific periods, prevailing in temperate climates predominantly during winter and sporadically throughout the year in tropical regions. This blog delves into the multifaceted aspects of seasonal influenza, with a focus on the current challenges faced in Pakistan and the global efforts to combat this perennial adversary.

The Spectrum of Influenza: From Mild to Severe:

For many fortunate individuals, contracting influenza results in a relatively mild course, often resolving within a week without the need for medical intervention. However, the gravity of the situation becomes apparent as the virus has the potential to induce severe illness or even lead to fatalities, particularly for vulnerable populations. The very young, the elderly, pregnant women, health workers, and those with underlying medical conditions find themselves at an elevated risk, grappling with the potential consequences of influenza’s grip on respiratory health.

Symptoms that Signal the Onset:

Seasonal influenza announces its presence with a sudden onset of debilitating symptoms. Fever, dry cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, severe malaise, sore throat, and a runny nose collectively mark the advent of the infection. The persistence of a severe cough for two weeks or more underscores the lasting impact of influenza on respiratory health, emphasizing the toll it can take on the human body.

Treatment Dilemma: Tailoring Care to Risk Levels:

For those outside high-risk groups, the treatment strategy primarily revolves around symptom management, focusing on alleviating fever and discomfort. However, a crucial shift in approach is mandated for individuals classified in high-risk categories. Seeking prompt medical attention becomes imperative, with antiviral drugs emerging as the cornerstone of treatment, aiming to mitigate the risk of severe or complicated illness.

Global Efforts: WHO’s Role in Battling Influenza:

The World Health Organization (WHO) plays a pivotal role in addressing the challenges posed by seasonal influenza. Through consultations with an advisory group of experts from WHO Collaborating Centres and Essential Regulatory Laboratories, the organization meticulously analyzes influenza virus surveillance data generated by the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS). The resulting recommendations become guiding principles for national vaccine regulatory agencies and pharmaceutical companies, shaping the development, production, and licensing of influenza vaccines worldwide.

The H3N2 Influenza-A Variant: A Concern in Pakistan:

In a recent report, the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Pakistan sounded the alarm regarding a subtype H3N2 Influenza-A virus causing severe respiratory illness. Thousands of cases are reported weekly, raising concerns about the broader public health impact. Health experts emphasize the heightened danger for the elderly and individuals with weakened immune systems.

The NIH report clarifies that the severe respiratory illness is attributed to the H3N2 Influenza-A virus and not COVID-19. The rate of coronavirus cases in Pakistan remains below one percent, highlighting the distinct nature of the ongoing health crisis. Simultaneously, the report identifies the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) as a causative factor for illness among children in the country.

“Poor air quality, smog in Punjab, the federal capital, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other areas adds to chances of respiratory illnesses. It is not COVID-19, but flu viruses, which are making people sick,” he said.

A well known epidemiologist Dr Rana Muhammad Safdar recommended that  people should adopt the same precautions they followed during the COVID-19 pandemic to safeguard themselves from the respiratory ailment.

Preventive Measures: A Shield Against Influenza‘s Onslaught:

In the face of this influenza surge, health experts advocate for caution and proactive measures. Discouraging the use of antibiotics for influenza symptoms, as they are ineffective against viral infections, the emphasis shifts towards preventive measures. Individuals, urged to wear masks and practice frequent hand washing to curtail the spread of the virus, forming a shield against the relentless onslaught of influenza.

Conclusion:

Seasonal influenza in Pakistan, with its ever-present threat, demands a collective and informed response. Understanding the nuances of the virus, recognizing the risk factors, and adopting preventive measures are crucial components in the battle against influenza. As WHO and Pakistan national authorities collaborate to address emerging strains, the public plays an equally vital role in curbing the spread and impact of this perennial adversary.

In the complex tapestry of respiratory infections, influenza stands as a formidable foe, necessitating vigilance, education, and a united front to protect communities worldwide. The ongoing challenges underscore the importance of global cooperation and individual responsibility in facing the multifaceted nature of seasonal influenza. Together, we can unmask the true extent of the threat and fortify our defenses against this persistent global health challenge.

FAQS

  1. What is seasonal influenza, and how does it impact Pakistan?

Seasonal influenza is a viral respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses. In Pakistan, it poses a significant health threat, leading to severe respiratory illness and hospitalizations.

  1. How prevalent is influenza in Pakistan, and are there specific periods when it surges?

Influenza is a year-round concern in Pakistan. The prevalence increases during specific periods, with a surge often observed in temperate climates during winter and sporadically throughout the year in tropical regions.

  1. What are the symptoms of seasonal influenza, and how can it be distinguished from other respiratory illnesses?

Common symptoms include fever, dry cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, severe malaise, sore throat, and a runny nose. Distinguishing features often include a sudden onset and a persistent, severe cough lasting two weeks or more.

  1. Who is at a higher risk of severe illness from influenza in Pakistan?

Vulnerable populations at a higher risk include the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, health workers, and individuals with underlying medical conditions.

  1. What is the role of the World Health Organization (WHO) in combating influenza globally?

WHO plays a pivotal role in addressing influenza challenges by analyzing surveillance data, providing recommendations, and guiding national vaccine regulatory agencies and pharmaceutical companies in vaccine development, production, and licensing.

  1. How does WHO collaborate with Pakistan to combat influenza?

WHO collaborates with Pakistan through consultations with experts from WHO Collaborating Centres and Essential Regulatory Laboratories. This collaboration aims to address emerging strains and provide guidance to mitigate the impact of influenza.

  1. What is the H3N2 Influenza-A variant, and why is it a concern in Pakistan?

The H3N2 Influenza-A variant is a subtype causing severe respiratory illness. It is a concern in Pakistan due to a recent surge in reported cases, especially impacting the elderly and individuals with weakened immune systems.

  1. Is the severe respiratory illness in Pakistan attributed to COVID-19 or influenza?

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) report, the severe respiratory illness is attributed to the H3N2 Influenza-A virus and not COVID-19. The rate of coronavirus cases in Pakistan remains below one percent.

  1. What preventive measures are recommended to curb the spread of influenza in Pakistan?

Preventive measures include wearing masks, frequent handwashing, and avoiding the use of antibiotics for influenza symptoms. These measures form a crucial shield against the relentless onslaught of influenza.

  1. How can the public contribute to combating influenza in Pakistan and globally?

The public can contribute by staying informed, following recommended preventive measures, seeking prompt medical attention for high-risk groups, and participating in vaccination programs when available.

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