Flu season is almost here. Be prepared before it catches you or your loved ones. According to the last year’s statistics, H1N1 flu created a lot of panic throughout India towards the end of 2014. Rajasthan and Gujarat had maximum number of flu cases and death toll all over India reached 2035 out of 33,761 flu patients till March 2015. The mortality rate, which was around 6 %, is considered very high.
Flu season officially starts from October and generally peaks in December- February and stays till March. The saying, “Prevention is always better than cure” is quite appropriate when the disease in question is Influenza or flu. In the event of outbreak, with high number of people infected with flu, treatment becomes difficult with the shortage of antiviral medicines like Oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Flu viruses are known to gain antiviral resistance also sometimes. Flu spreads easily in air through coughing and sneezing by patients. There is usually a shortage in supply of preventive N-95 masks each year. Diagnostic tests are also quite costly for a common man. Pathology labs charged up to Rs.9000 for swine flu tests during last flu outbreak. Delhi govt. had to intervene and cap the price at Rs.4500.
Swine flu has made an early comeback already in Telangana, Gujarat and Maharashtra with fresh cases and deaths reported in these states.
Are you prepared for this flu season? Have you got the flu shots, if not, now is the time to do so. Flu vaccines are licensed to be used for children above 6 months of age. Children younger than 2 years, adults 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions (lung or heart disorders; metabolic disorders e.g. Diabetes, kidney ailments, etc.; and immunosuppressive diseases like AIDS) should definitely get the flu shots. Children younger than 6 months are at higher risk of serious flu complications, but are too young to get a flu vaccine. Pregnant women can be vaccinated successfully with the flu vaccine in the second or third trimester of pregnancy as proven by a recent pilot project, which was carried out in 6 hospitals of Maharashtra. Vaccination provides mothers with enough antibodies in 2 weeks to protect them and their babies from flu for one year.
People should get vaccinated as soon as a new stock of Flu vaccine arrives in the market each year. Flu viruses keep constantly changing each year due to certain mutations altering their genetic makeup. Also, the effect of antibodies lasts only for a year after vaccination. So, it is sensible to get vaccinated in October every year with the latest flu vaccines. The latest flu vaccines are updated with the prevalent strains of Influenza. It takes about 2 weeks after vaccination to develop antibodies in the body of vaccinated person.
Antigenic characterization is done by WHO, to find the matching vaccine viruses with the circulating Influenza viruses in the environment. This year (2015-16) Flu vaccines for northern hemisphere are designed to provide immunity against three kinds of flu viruses:
- an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
- an A/Switzerland/9715293/2013 (H3N2)-like virus
- a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus. (This is a B/Yamagata lineage virus)
This represents a change in the influenza A (H3) and influenza B (Yamagata lineage) components compared with the composition of the 2014-15 influenza vaccines. The Influenza type A viruses, also termed as swine flu viruses, cause moderate to severe illness in all age groups. Type B mainly affects children and causes mild illness. Quadrivalent vaccines are also developed by some foreign companies to provide protection against an additional B virus but these are not available in India right now.
Seasonal Flu vaccines like Influvac (Abott, Netherlands) and Vaxigrip (Sanofi, France) are already available in India for 2015-16. Talk to your doctor about available Flu vaccines now and get ready to face the Flu season without fear.