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Diagnosing, Preventing and Managing Seasonal Influenza | Max Hospital

Diagnosing, Preventing and Managing Seasonal Influenza

By Dr. Vivek Nangia in Pulmonology

Apr 24 , 2024 | 5 min read

Seasonal influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is an immensely contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Each year, it traverses through global communities, usually reaching its peak during the colder months. This ailment manifests with a sudden onset of symptoms that can vary in severity, often encompassing fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. In some cases, particularly among children, vomiting, and diarrhoea may occur, though these symptoms are more commonly associated with other types of infections.

This blog seeks to delve into preventive strategies and how to effectively manage seasonal influenza, emphasising the importance of prevention of influenza.

Causes and Risk Factors of Seasonal Influenza

Seasonal influenza is primarily caused by two types of viruses: Influenza A and Influenza B. These viruses are constantly mutating, which is why different strains circulate each year, making annual vaccination important. Influenza viruses are typically transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected individual coughs, sneezes, or talks. The virus can also be contracted by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.

Several risk factors increase the likelihood of contracting seasonal influenza or experiencing more severe symptoms:

  • Age: Young children under the age of 5, especially those under 2, and adults over the age of 65 are at higher risk.
  • Chronic medical conditions: People with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease are more susceptible to the complications of influenza.
  • Weakened immune system: Individuals with weakened immune systems, whether due to illness, treatments like chemotherapy, or immunosuppressive medications, are more vulnerable.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnant women are at higher risk of severe influenza due to changes in their immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy.
  • Living or working environments: Those residing in nursing homes or long-term care facilities and individuals who work in healthcare settings are at increased risk due to the higher likelihood of exposure.
  • Lifestyle factors: Smoking and obesity have also been linked to an increased risk of contracting influenza and experiencing severe symptoms.

Diagnosing Seasonal Influenza

A healthcare professional will conduct a physical examination and assess symptoms indicative of influenza. They may also order specific tests to detect the influenza virus.

During periods when influenza is widespread, testing might not be necessary for diagnosis. In such scenarios, healthcare teams often diagnose influenza based on symptom presentation alone.

However, in certain cases, healthcare professionals may recommend testing for influenza. Various tests are available for this purpose, with Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing increasingly prevalent in many hospitals and laboratories. This test can be conducted in a healthcare professional's office or in a hospital setting. PCR tests are noted for their sensitivity and may even identify specific influenza strains.

Additionally, it is possible to undergo tests that diagnose both influenza and COVID-19 simultaneously. This is particularly important given the possibility of co-infection with both viruses.

Seasonal Influenza Treatment

The significance of accurately addressing seasonal influenza cannot be overstated. While the majority of individuals recover within a week or two without necessitating medical treatment, the flu can lead to severe complications, particularly in high-risk groups such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and individuals with chronic health conditions.

The treatment of seasonal influenza involves a blend of home care measures and medical interventions, tailored to the severity of the symptoms and the individual’s health status. The primary goal is to alleviate symptoms, reduce the duration of the illness, and prevent complications.

Home care measures

  • Rest: Adequate rest is essential for the body to fight off the virus.
  • Hydration: Drinking plenty of fluids prevents dehydration and helps in managing fever.
  • Symptom management: Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to reduce fever and relieve aches. It’s important to avoid aspirin in children and teenagers.
  • Isolation: To prevent the spread of the virus, patients should stay home and limit contact with others.

Medical interventions

  • Antiviral medications: These are prescribed especially for individuals at high risk of complications. Common antivirals include Oseltamivir (Tamiflu), Zanamivir (Relenza), Peramivir (Rapivab), and Baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza). These drugs work by inhibiting the replication of the virus, thus reducing the severity and duration of the illness.
  • Hospitalisation: In severe cases, particularly when there are complications like pneumonia or respiratory distress, hospitalisation may be required.

Managing Symptoms and Complications

  • Fever and pain relief: Medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used, but it’s essential to follow the dosage instructions and consult a healthcare provider for young children.
  • Cough management: Cough syrups and throat lozenges can help ease a sore throat and cough.
  • Dealing with complications: Complications such as secondary bacterial infections may require antibiotics. Patients with pre-existing conditions like asthma may need specific treatments for exacerbations.

Special considerations

  • Elderly patients and those with chronic illnesses: This demographic might benefit from early initiation of antiviral therapy and should be monitored closely for complications.
  • Children: Dosages of medications must be adjusted for age and weight. Certain medications, like aspirin, are not recommended.
  • Pregnant women: The safety of medications during pregnancy needs careful consideration. Antiviral drugs, when prescribed, should be taken under medical guidance.
  • Immunocompromised patients: They may require longer courses of antiviral medication and should be closely monitored for signs of secondary infections.

Seasonal Influenza Prevention Strategies

Preventing influenza (flu) involves a combination of vaccination, good hygiene practices, and lifestyle choices. Here are some key strategies for preventing influenza:

Get vaccinated

  • Annual flu vaccination is the most effective way to prevent influenza. The vaccine is usually updated each year to target the most prevalent strains of the virus.
  • It's especially important for individuals at high risk of complications (such as young children, elderly individuals, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions) to get vaccinated.

Practise good hygiene

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing or sneezing, using the restroom, or being in public places.
  • Use hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth, as this can introduce the virus into your body.

Respiratory hygiene

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of tissues properly.
  • If you use a tissue, wash your hands immediately afterward.
  • Avoid close contact with sick individuals.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

  • Ensure you get enough sleep, as lack of sleep can weaken your immune system.
  • Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Stay physically active to support overall health and immune function.

Keep your environment clean

  • Regularly clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, and electronic devices.
  • In shared spaces, consider using disinfectant wipes to clean surfaces before use.

Use masks

  • In situations where influenza is prevalent or during a flu outbreak, wearing masks in crowded or high-risk areas can help reduce the spread of respiratory droplets.

Conclusion

Effectively diagnosing, preventing, and managing seasonal influenza is crucial for maintaining public health, especially during peak flu seasons. These measures not only safeguard individual health but also alleviate the broader impact on communities. For comprehensive care and the latest in flu treatments and prevention strategies, turn to Max Healthcare. Consult with our experts to stay informed, protected, and prepared against seasonal influenza. At Max Healthcare, your health is our top priority.


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