Infectious diseases consultant points out panic about H1N1 strain without any reason
LAHORE: Dr Ashraf Ali Khan, consultant for infectious diseases at the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital & Research Centre (SKMCH&RC), has said that there is nothing sensational about the swine flu or its currently existing outbreak.
“Any one serotype (or strain) may be prevalent at a given time and it happens to be H1N1 strain. A panic has been created without any reason as we have the ability to test for the H1N1 – a great accomplishment for when it was a pandemic – but of little value at this time when it is one of the usual yearly circulating serotypes,” he told a media delegation here.
“So even though any influenza illness can be severe and have dangerous sequelae, there is no need to panic that this is some out-of-the-ordinary scourge that has come upon us,” he told a questioner. “It is represented in the current vaccine. The WHO has recommended that people who fall in the high-risk category get vaccinated with the vaccine available for this year as well as anyone who desires to prevent an attack of influenza,” he said.
TRIVALENT VACCINE: Dr Ashraf Ali said that influenza vaccine was a trivalent vaccine that addresses three currently circulating influenza types. “It is recommended as a yearly jab in the upper arm muscle,” he said, adding that influenza vaccine has been shown in studies to be highly beneficial especially in people with weakened immune system or who have a weaker milieu in general such as in people over the age of 50 and people with immune compromising conditions.
He said that the symptoms of influenza include fever, body aches, headache, runny nose, cough and weakness. “It is spread by droplets sprayed by coughing/sneezing individuals,” he said. In hospitalised patients with suspected or confirmed influenza, the transmission to healthcare workers can be prevented with droplet precautions in a single room and with use of a mask, he said.
The infectious diseases consultant said that precautionary measures include vaccination, hand hygiene, avoidance of contact with persons with respiratory illnesses that were actively having episodes of cough and sneezing; education about cough etiquette, the use of a handkerchief or tissue to be held on the mouth and nose while coughing or coughing/sneezing into the hollow of one’s elbow – essentially being sensitive about the possibility of transferring illness to other people.
“Age groups most effected by the flu are children less than two years of age and people older than 65,” he said, adding that the vaccination can be administered to children over the age of six months. “All healthcare workers and care givers who look after patients in hospitals or at home should get the vaccine,” he told the delegation. He said that influenza can become complicated with bacterial pneumonia which is a serious life-threatening infection of the lungs.
Wrapping up the discussion, Dr Ashraf Ali said that lack of vaccination would be the reason behind any outbreak. He suggested that the government institutions including the health departments need to make a concerted effort to educate the people about influenza vaccine benefits and support the recommendation of medical authorities so that more and more people make a habit of getting a yearly influenza vaccination.