Prevent exposure to Influenza with hygienic practices | Page 2 | Sunday Observer
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Prevent exposure to Influenza with hygienic practices

7 November, 2021

The global flu epidemic currently raging in several countries has been described by infectious disease experts as a serious risk to human life - more than the ongoing Covid-19. 

Consultant Virologist, National Hospital, Kandy, Dr Rohitha Muthugala told the Sunday Observer that Influenza is a major global health problem. It causes epidemics and pandemics. Several pandemics occurred in the  20th century: Spanish flu 1918-1920, Asian flu 1957-58, Hong Kong Flu (1968-1968), Swine Flu (2009-2010). Due to the nature of the virus, it has a high chance of getting genetic mutations and having wide range of animal hosts. New viruses emerge and spread rapidly in non-immune (exposed) population. 

A study at the Centre for Infectious disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota has stated that a global outbreak could kill up to 33 million people in the first six months in the US.

Asked how far the research done in the US was applicable to Sri Lanka and countries in Asia in general and what influenza strain was currently circulating in the country, Dr Kularatne said, “Usually influenza virus surveillance activity is carried out in humans and animals.

No evidence of emergence of new strains recently except a few isolated outbreaks of influenza of avian origin in China. But due to Covid-19, influenza surveillance activity has been disrupted in most parts of the world including Sri Lanka. This is due to utilisation of laboratory facilities for Covid testing.

As differentiating between an ordinary cold and the flu is often a matter of confusion to the public, we asked him to tell us how we can know if the symptoms we are experiencing after getting wet in the rain or exposing ourselves to someone who has cold, fever or cough, are likely to be an ordinary cold or the flu.

In reply, he said, “Often symptoms are similar, but flu classically  present with fever and other upper respiratory symptoms (sore throat, cough, nasal discharge)”

In Sri Lanka most people traditionally recommend home remedies such as gargling with warm salt water, drinking coriander water and eating conjee when we develop- a fever. While this has worked  in the past, with Western medicine taking over, we asked Dr Kularatne.what his views were on this subject.  Responding to our query he said, “For flu, there is specific anti-viral drug. it is given to patients who can develop complications. High risk groups include pregnant mothers, children below two years, elderly, people with chronic heart, lung, liver, kidney diseases. Therefore, seeking medical advice early is important in flu session/epidemic.

Asked whether  a flu vaccine was available in Sri Lanka  as in other countries, how safe and effective it was  and where it could be obtained free for needy persons, he said, “It is available in Sri Lanka, but not free of charge. You need to get it annually because of frequent changes of virus strains.”

 On the WHO report that while there had been incredible improvement in vaccine development in the past ten years we still do not have a vaccine that protects against  stronger strains for a longer time, he said, “This is due to a high rate of the genetic changes in the virus.”

 It has been said that the ultimate goal is for a vaccine that would not have to be administered every year, was effective against many different strains and could be used in low and middle income countries. He said, “A universal vaccine is the ideal solution. Research is still continuing.”

He listed some golden rules to follow in the event of a flu outbreak.

1. Adhere to the hygienic rules and guidelines issued by the Ministry to prevent Covid-19.

2. If you are sick, stay at home, wear masks, adhere to cough hygiene. 

3. Frequently wash your hands, especially if you touch contaminated surfaces. 

4. Avoid overcrowded places

5.  Seek medical advice early if you belong to a high risk group