Many of my patients are suffering repeat bouts of viral infection, often within a fortnight. Back to back flu means more than one virus is floating around and you could be susceptible to them, says Dr Rommel Tickoo, Director, Internal Medicine, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, Delhi
It has been an unusual month with our OPD full of patients seeking relief from viral fever. Seasonal transitions are always associated with viral infections but the numbers are higher this year than ever before. Maybe it is because of the sharp temperature fluctuations, the abnormal heat and the pollution that’s pushing up the allergen count in the atmosphere and activating viruses. This cocktail of heat and pollution is prevalent in all cities across India, which are reporting similar patterns of infection. There is talk of the H3N2 influenza virus floating around. However, there could be other viruses causing fever and infection too. All I can say is that the strain seems to be pretty virulent. If one family member contracts it, then others too are getting easily affected.
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WHAT ARE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS?
The most common symptoms of every flu virus are cold, coughs, high fever, body aches, headaches, sneezing, blocked nose, sore throat, watery eyes and mucus draining from your nose into your throat. The symptoms may settle by the third or fourth day but this time the coughing bouts are severe and persistent, lasting up to two to four weeks after recovery. Even unexplained headaches are bothering a few. About 30 to 40 per cent of my patients are returning to the OPD seeking relief from their stubborn coughing bouts. Almost everybody is reporting bronchitis, an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs. So, there is a lot of wheezing and breathlessness.
This means the virus is not just confined to the upper respiratory tract but going deeper down into the lungs, though not progressing to pneumonia. So though there are no complications such as a dip in oxygen saturation levels or conditions that require hospitalisation, the patients are requiring inhalers, nebulisers and in risk-prone cases, even oral steroids.
MOST PATIENTS ARE SEEING RELAPSES. WHY?
Many of my patients are suffering a second bout of the viral infection, often within a fortnight. That’s because while your body has antibodies against one kind of virus that affected you, it is still not resistant to another strain of the virus. Back to back flu means more than one virus is floating around and you could be susceptible to them.
IS COVID TO BLAME FOR OUR LOWER IMMUNITY SHIELD?
The dysregulation of our immune system is being attributed to COVID-19 but at the moment this is just a hypothesis. There is no scientific study to prove this. But what is possible is that the body had gotten accustomed to two years of mask discipline outdoors, which filtered out many microbes and pollutants, not just COVID-19. Now everybody is off the mask and there is sudden exposure to the polluted environment and people around us. Our natural defence mechanism didn’t have enough time to recalibrate itself.
WHICH AGE GROUP IS MOST AT RISK?
Mostly children are at risk as they have not only resumed school but have taken to social interactions. The next vulnerable group is those above 60 with co-morbidities like COPD, diabetes, asthma and heart disease.
WHEN SHOULD YOU CONSULT A DOCTOR?
You should consult a doctor within three days of onset of symptoms. Till then you should take paracetamol, anti-allergens and steam inhalation. You can do a nasopharyngeal swab test for COVID-19 and flu. The doctor may recommend blood tests like CBC and CRP. If you have blood in your sputum, breathlessness and drop in levels of oxygen saturation simultaneously, consult a doctor immediately.
WHAT IS THE BEST PREVENTIVE PROTOCOL?
Please take the flu shot. Make it an annual feature like it is in the West. Those with chronic illnesses and those above the age of 65 should take the pneumonia shot. Work on your immunity, take a good diet and sleep well. Avoid smoking and alcohol if you are risk-prone.
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