SEASONAL influenza, triggered mostly in the winter months, is once more upon us. There are increasing reports of individuals contracting a flu virus subtype known as A (H1N1). It is the same viral strain that caused the 2009 global influenza epidemic, and that continues to circulate in many parts of the world. Although the illness can be successfully managed in most cases, what is of concern to health authorities in Punjab is that the province has logged over 20 influenza-related deaths among a total of almost 70 cases diagnosed since August last year; just last week, four patients died in government hospitals. It is evident that they were either not diagnosed as seriously ill or referred to the hospital too late. All this has a bearing on the efficacy of the health authorities tasked with protecting vulnerable swathes of the population against flu outbreak. Surely the authorities must know that severe winters and poor socioeconomic conditions are contributing to flu prevalence. In the case of Sindh where almost 40 patients contracted this particular strain over the last two months, infectious disease experts say that there is no need to panic — as yet. Instead, they advise exercising precautionary measures, and supportive treatment for those who fall ill.
Though this viral strain has come to be regarded as nothing more than a manifestation of the seasonal flu, it can adversely impact those with low immunity — for instance, pregnant women, children and the elderly — who are advised by doctors to get the flu shot to lower their chances of falling sick. As with other illnesses, it is important that patients not turn to quacks. Hospitals should monitor those most at risk and be better prepared with free flu vaccines and antibacterial drugs to treat secondary infections such as bacterial pneumonia to prevent influenza-related deaths. Lastly, even if precautionary measures are rather basic and obvious — washing hands, staying away from sick persons, drinking plenty of fluids and eating nutritious foods — public media campaigns must disseminate this information.
Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2018