Infectious INFLUENZA

All you need to know about influenza

Influenza A or Covid-19? Both medical conditions have similar symptoms and they can both be life threatening. So, we spoke to a Pharmacist from Straits Pharmacy (Jalan Munshi Abdullah), Melaka, Dillon Goh to have a better understanding of influenza A.

1Twenty80: What is Influenza A and what are its symptoms? 

Dillon Goh: Influenza A is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory (breathing) system (your nose, throat, and lungs). Common signs and symptoms of Influenza A infection include:

  • Fever over 100.4F (38°C)       
  • Dry cough 
  • Muscle aches 
  • Shivering 
  • Sore throat 
  • Fatigue and weakness 
  • Headache 
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting (children)

Following are a few features that can help us to distinguish influenza from common cold:

INFLUENZA:

Duration of symptoms: Typically 1-2 weeks

Fever: Often high fever 

Muscular aches and shivering: Common

COMMON COLD

Duration of symptoms: Few days

Fever: Infrequent and mild fever

Muscular aches and shivering : Rare

1Twenty80: Who are at higher risk of complications of Influenza A? What are the complications?

Dillon Goh: Influenza A can affect any age group, but it can lead to further illness (complications) in children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with weakened immune system and people with chronic illnesses (lung disease such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and more). Patients at high risk may develop complications such as pneumonia (lung infection), bronchitis (airway inflammation), asthma flare up, heart problems, and ear infections.

Quote: Influenza A can affect any age group, but it can lead to further illness in children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and people with chronic illnesses.

1Twenty80: What should you do if you suspect that you have Influenza A?

Dillon Goh: People who suspect that they have influenza A should visit the hospital as soon as possible to get tested. Unfortunately, the test is not available in community pharmacies.

1Twenty80: Is there a vaccine for influenza and who should be vaccinated against it?

Dillon Goh: Influenza vaccines are available in Malaysia. In fact, it’s the single, most effective way to minimise the risk of contracting the disease. The formulation of vaccines varies yearly based on information and recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) due to changes in the influenza viruses. Therefore, it is highly recommended to get the influenza vaccination yearly, especially for high-risk individuals. Based on latest studies of influenza vaccination in those with and without egg allergy, the presence of egg allergy does not increase the risk of allergic reactions to the influenza vaccine. However, people with severe egg allergy may consult the doctor before receiving influenza vaccination.

1Twenty80: How easily can Influenza A spread and in what manner?

Dillon Goh: Influenza viruses are mainly spread through droplets released by infected people when they cough or sneeze. Influenza can be transmitted by hand to mouth or eye infection when people come into contact with contaminated surfaces, as influenza viruses can survive for more than eight hours on hard surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel.

1Twenty80: For those who work in close contact with the public such as pharmacists, bank tellers or those who take public transport, what kind of preventative measures should they take?

Dillon Goh: Wearing a mask might help to protect you from the influenza viruses when you are in contact with more potentially infected people. Surgical masks may help to block airborne influenza viruses, and they may also prevent the transmission of viruses from your hands to your mouth or nose. Thorough and frequent handwashing is an effective way to prevent many common infections. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers should be used if soap and water are not readily available. Also, remember to wipe surfaces regularly with disinfectant wipes.

Quote: It is highly recommended to get influenza vaccination yearly, especially for those high-risk individuals.

1Twenty80: Is there such a thing as ‘flu season’?

Dillon Goh: Influenza viruses are present year round but fall and winter are generally known as flu season due to the increased flu cases in these seasons. This is because influenza viruses may survive better in colder and drier climates. Another common yet often overlooked reason is people spend more time indoors when the weather is cold. People have a higher risk to contract the virus as they are more likely to breathe the same air as someone who has the flu.

1Twenty80: What kind of treatment is advisable for influenza?

Dillon Goh: These measures may help to ease your symptoms if you have influenza:

  • Rest – Get more sleep to help your immune system fight infection. 
  • Drink plenty of fluid (water, juice, warm soups) to prevent dehydration. 
  • Take pain relief medication (such as paracetamol) if you need to, to combat muscle aches associated with influenza. 
  • Vitamin C – May be effective in supporting a healthy immune system and fighting against infections.Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication if you have severe infection or are at higher risk for complications. This drug works best if you start them in the first two days of having symptoms and this may shorten your illness by a day or so and may help prevent serious complications.

1Twenty80: What is your advice when it comes to highly infectious diseases such as Influenza A?

Dillon Goh: Prevention is better than cure. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to receive yearly influenza vaccination as this is the best way to protect yourself against influenza. Also, influenza spreads easily wherever people congregate. By avoiding crowds, you reduce your chances of infection.

Do remember to adopt good personal hygiene including washing hands regularly with soap and water or hand sanitiser, having enough rest and drinking sufficient amounts of water. Lastly, if you are sick, remember to stay at home for at least 24 hours after your fever subsides so that you lessen your chance of infecting others. 

Quote: Do remember to adopt good personal hygiene including washing hands regularly with soap and water or hand sanitiser, having enough rest and drinking sufficient amounts of water. 

References: 

https://www.uhs.nhs.uk/ 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/flu/symptoms-causes/syc-20351719 

http://isg.org.au/ 

https://www.allergy.org.au/hp/papers/ vaccination-of-the-egg-allergic-individual