Millions of people around the world get sick with the flu every year. In tropical regions like Vietnam, influenza may occur throughout the year, causing outbreaks to be more irregular than they are elsewhere.
Seasonal influenza (or “flu”) is an acute respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses which circulate in all parts of the world. It is characterized by a sudden onset of fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, malaise, sore throat, a runny nose and non-productive cough. The cough can be severe and can last two or more weeks. The disease is contagious during the 24 hours before the onset of symptoms.
Most people recover from fever and other symptoms within a week without requiring medical attention. However, influenza can cause severe illness or other complications like otitis media, pneumonia and even death.
The flu is a very contagious illness that spreads easily, especially in crowded areas such as schools; public places like markets; auditoriums and public transportation; and nursing homes. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets containing viruses are dispersed into the air and can spread up to one meter, and infected persons nearby can breathe these droplets in. The virus can also be spread by hands contaminated with influenza viruses. You can also get the flu through personal contact (handshakes or hugs), saliva (kissing or sharing drinks), and by touching contaminated surfaces (doorknobs or faucets).
Bed rest and adequate fluid intake are important supportive measures. Control of fever with antipyretics is important. Specific therapy for influenza is offered to patients with severe and progressive infections, and to those with underlying medical conditions. It may also be given to shorten the duration of the illness, especially if the benefits outweigh the side effects of the drugs.
The most effective way to prevent the disease is vaccination. Safe and effective vaccines are available and have been used for more than 60 years. Immunity from vaccination wanes over time, so annual vaccination is recommended to protect against influenza.
Annual vaccination is recommended for:
- Pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy
- Children aged between six months to five years
- Elderly individuals (aged more than 65 years)
- Individuals with chronic medical conditions
- Health care workers.
In addition to vaccination and antiviral treatment, public health management including personal protective measures to reduce the spread of infection is essential:
- Regular hand washing with proper drying of the hands
- Good respiratory hygiene—covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, using tissues and disposing of them correctly
- Early self-isolation of those feeling unwell, feverish and having other symptoms of influenza
- Avoiding close contact with sick people
- Avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth
- Avoid crowded places. By avoiding crowds during peak flu season, you reduce your chances of infection. And, if you’re sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever subsides so that you lessen your chance of infecting others.
Dr. Elvie Joy Atanque-Basa
Family Medical Practice Danang