Know about Influenza to Protect Yourself and Your Family

What is influenza?

  • Influenza, also known as "Flu," is a highly contagious (spreads from one person to another) viral infection of the respiratory tract; affecting one’s nose, throat and lungs.
  • It causes mild to severe illness in individuals of all age groups, however children are at higher risk.

Is influenza dangerous?

  • Influenza is more dangerous than common cold and each year, many people get sick with seasonal influenza.
  • Complications of flu includes pneumonia (infection of lung), ear infections, infection of sinuses (hollow cavities in the facial bones), dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
  • Such complications can lead to hospitalization and eventually death in few severe cases.

Who are at high risk from getting influenza?

  • Older people, young children, pregnant women and women up to two weeks post-partum (period immediately after the child-birth), are especially at high risk from getting influenza and developing serious flu complications.
  • People with certain health conditions like asthma, other lung disorders, diabetes, heart diseases, brain disorders, those with weak immune system, etc. are also at high risk.

Can flu affect healthy adults and children?

  • Even healthy children and adults can fall sick because of flu and can spread it to their friends, co-workers, and family.
  • Thousands of healthy adults and children visit their doctor or are hospitalized because of flu complications each year.

How does influenza spread?

  • Influenza viruses spread mainly via droplets (secretions from the nose, throat, or lungs) when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk, thereby spreading it to those who are nearby.
  • A person might also get influenza by touching some surface or object that is contaminated with flu viruses and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

  • Flu is often confused with the common cold, but flu symptoms are usually more severe compared to cold.
  • Symptoms, which usually begin in around 2 days of exposure to virus includes:

Other symptoms include:

    •   Chills (feeling of coldness)
    •   Muscular pain
    •   Dizziness (imbalance or feeling as if everything is turning around)
    •   Loss of appetite (loss of desire to eat)
    •   Cough
    •   Runny or stuffy nose
    •   Sometimes nausea/vomiting or diarrhea
    •   Weakness
    •   Ear pain

How long can a sick person/child spread influenza to others?

  • Those with flu might infect others by transmitting viruses from a day before falling sick up to 5 to 7 days later.
  • However, children and people with weakened immune systems can shed virus for longer, and might be still contagious past 5 to 7 days of being sick, especially if they still have symptoms.

How to protect yourself or your family member/s from influenza?

  • An influenza vaccine is the best way to get protection against flu.
  • Flu vaccine is recommended for everyone above the age of 6 months.
  • Vaccination of high risk persons (like young children, elderly and pregnant women) is especially important to decrease their risk of severe flu illness.
  • Vaccination is also important for those who live with or care for high risk people.
  • Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness, but are too young to be vaccinated. Hence, people who care for or live with them should be vaccinated to protect them.
  • Pregnant mothers should be vaccinated against flu to protect themselves and the new-born up to 6 months of age.

Is it necessary to get vaccinated every year?

  • Yes. One should be vaccinated every year (season) for best protection against influenza.
  • One who gets the vaccine for a particular year, doesn’t get protection from the flu viruses in the subsequent years because the flu viruses constantly change and the protection also wears off. That's why the vaccine content is changed every year to include the most currently circulating viruses.
  • Flu vaccines are made to protect against three flu viruses – influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), and influenza B virus.

What kinds of influenza vaccines are available for use?

  • Two kinds of vaccines are available – Inactivated Influenza Vaccine (IIV) and Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV).
  • IIV contains killed flu viruses which is given as an injection (flu shot) and is recommended for everyone above 6 months of age.
  • LAIV contains weakened live flu viruses which is given as nasal spray and can be given from 2 years onwards.
  • For adults, a single dose of influenza vaccine, either LAIV or IIV will provide protection against influenza for an entire year.
  • Two doses of IIV would be required in previously unvaccinated children who are below 9 years of age and a single dose for school children above 9 years of age, while a single dose of LAIV would be more than enough to protect the child throughout the influenza season.

When is the best time to get vaccinated?

  • One should get vaccinated every flu season for the best protection against flu.
  • After the vaccine, it takes about 2 weeks for the body to develop protection against the flu. Getting the vaccine before the flu season gives the body a chance to build up protection against the viruses.
  • It is good practice to get vaccinated soon after flu vaccine becomes available, ideally just before the monsoon sets in.
  • However, getting vaccinated even later can be protective, as long as flu viruses are circulating.
  • If a travel outside the country is scheduled, one should check with the doctor because the flu season may be different in other countries and should ensure influenza vaccination for themselves and/or for the family member/s.
  • If a travel is scheduled to a place with flu activity, make sure to vaccinate self and/or family member/s at least 2 weeks before travel.

What are the special situations where discussion with the doctor would be required?

  • Although flu vaccine is recommended for everyone aged 6 months and older, it is important for those at higher risk of health problems from the flu to get vaccinated. They include:
    • All kids 6 months till 5 years of age
    • Any child aged between 6 months and 18 years at high risk
    • Adults 50 years of age and older
    • Women who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season; pregnant women, up to two weeks following child-birth)
    • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
    • Those who have chronic health problems like asthma, disorders of the brain, epilepsy (seizure disorders), intellectual disability (mental retardation), moderate to severe developmental delay, chronic lung disease, heart disease, blood disorders, diabetes mellitus, kidney and liver disorders, etc.
    • Those who have weak immune system due to diseases (eg., AIDS, cancer) or medication (eg., steroids).
    • Those younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
    • People who are obese (body-mass index is 40 or greater)
    • Health-care personnel
    • Those in contact with/caring for people with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for severe complications from influenza
    • Those in contact with/caring for children younger than 5 years and adults aged 50 years and older
    • Those in contact with/caring for babies below 6 months of age. This includes vaccinating pregnant women because this gives some protection to the baby, both while the woman is pregnant and for a few months after the baby is born.

What are other steps that can be taken to prevent influenza?

  • There's no guaranteed way (including vaccination) to have 100% protection from the flu. But following steps might also help to prevent influenza:
  • Close contact with sick people should be avoided.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible.
  • Surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu virus should be cleaned and disinfected.
  • Nose and mouth should be covered with a tissue when one coughs or sneezes. The tissue should be disposed off in the dustbin after use. If a tissue isn't available, one should cough or sneeze into the upper arm and not into the hands.
  • Hands should be often washed with soap and water especially after using the toilets, after coughing or sneezing, and before eating/ preparing food or before feeding the child.
  • If soap & water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used.
  • One must avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth because the virus spreads this way.

What if one gets influenza despite receiving the vaccine?

  • Even with several preventive measures, sometimes one may still get the flu.
  • If one has flu symptoms, an appointment with your doctor should be scheduled.
  • The doctor might prescribe an antiviral flu medicine that attacks the flu virus.
  • Antivirals may be an important addition to vaccination for prevention and control of flu.
  • If one gets the flu, it’s important that they spend time resting.
  • One should remain at home for at least 24 hours after his or her fever (high body temperature) is reduced. The fever should be reduced even without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.       
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