The flu season has arrived in Pakistan and the government has circulated an advisory telling people what precautions and preventive measures to take.
There is no outbreak yet but flu (influenza) might prove to be very dangerous for certain high-risk people. Ziauddin Hospital Karachi has, however, reported three cases of H1N1, the Sindh health department has said.
High-risk groups include the elderly, young children, obese or immune-compromised people, those with chronic health problems like asthma, diabetes, cardiac and respiratory diseases, pregnant women and healthcare workers.
“Viruses spread from person to person through sneezing, coughing or touching contaminated surfaces,” says the NIH advisory.
It is a highly contagious disease and doctors say most of the focus should be on prevention.
What preventive measures can you take?
The flu shot is the most effective way to prevent infection and complications. It is available at all hospitals, but not free of cost, said the Sindh health department.
The WHO recommends it for all high-risk people.
Which virus type is circulating currently?
“Right now we don’t know what virus type is going around,” says Dr Naseem Salahuddin, an infectious disease specialist and senior consultant from Indus Hospital.
Responsibility of detecting the circulating virus subtype lies with the National Institute of Health. If a person is hospitalised with symptoms of influenza treatment is begun immediately. She says results of the influenza virus test take a few days to come.
Dr Fivzia, an infectious disease consultant, told SAMAA Digital that testing for the influenza virus isn’t a common practice in the country.
Before every season, an advisory is issued by the US Centres for Disease Control regarding the circulating viruses and what vaccines will be used during that particular flu season.
This changes every season as viruses mutate very quickly, she said.
If someone from a high-risk group is admitted within 24 to 48 hours of symptoms, treatment with an antiviral medicine is started.
Currently, the Indus Hospital isn’t reporting influenza cases to the national Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (FELTP), but Dr Salahuddin says it should.
Government hospitals have a mechanism of reporting these cases to the FELTP. Dr Seemin Jamali, executive director of the Jinnah hospital, says they haven’t seen any flu cases yet, but viral infections have been reported.
Testing for the influenza virus is done free of cost at public hospitals.