H3N2 influenza is caused by a subtype of the virus, Influenza A, which primarily affects pigs, but has been known to cause human disease for years.
The H3N2 influenza virus is on the rise in India. Viral illness instances are being reported in several states, including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Odisha, and Haryana. The state administrations have also begun to take preventative measures to stop the potential spread of this viral disease. According to information released by the health ministry, 451 cases of H3N2 have been recorded between January 2-March 5, 2023, in the nation. Considering the spike in the H3N2 virus, it is imperative to question whether H3N2 is going to be another pandemic. To learn about this, we talked to Dr M.V. Rao, Consultant Physician, Yashoda Hospitals Hyderabad, and Dr Monalisa Sahu, Consultant Infectious Diseases, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad. Here's what they shared.
While talking to OnlyMyHealth, Dr Rao said that the flu is a seasonal occurrence in India. The first one is pre-monsoon, while the second one is between January and March. But, starting December 2022, there has been an increase in flu cases this year. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), H3N2 is primarily the reason. ICMR stated that there had been some modifications to the virus' structure.
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Dr Sahu stated, "H3N2 influenza is caused by a subtype of the virus, Influenza A, which primarily affects pigs, but has been known to cause human disease for years. The H3N2 changes genetically as well as antigenically to produce variants which are responsible for disease in different seasons and years. India has been witnessing a rise in cases of Influenza H3N2 in the last few weeks across all states."
The number of people requesting advice for fever, congestion, and cold has significantly increased. "Additionally, there has been a rise in the number of patients that come into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with symptoms of serious lower respiratory tract illnesses, such as high fevers, breathing difficulties, low oxygen saturation, dehydration, and severe pneumonia," she added.
Dr Rao informed that the H3N2 virus was first identified in the year 1968; hence, it is not a new threat. It began as the flu, persisted, and then became endemic. A 2/3rd of the cases of flu in India are due to H3N2. Some of the virus-affected patients are reportedly becoming worse, according to ICMR."
According to Dr Sahu, "Extremes of ages like infants, children and elderly populations, pregnant females, immunosuppressed people, people with chronic medical conditions like uncontrolled diabetes, chronic asthma, malignancy patients, patients on chemotherapy and organ transplant recipients are especially at risk of severe disease by this influenza strain."
As per Dr Sahu, the signs and symptoms of Influenza A H3N2 are similar to other viral respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.
The signs and symptoms of H3N2 include fever, chills, headache, sore throat, runny nose, persistent cough, body aches, fatigue, muscle aches, vomiting, and dehydration.
Signs and symptoms of severe disease which require the immediate attention of the doctor and hospitalisation include high-grade persistent fever for more than three days, difficulty in breathing, increased rates of breathing, severe or persistent vomiting, dehydration, low blood pressure, worsening of the existing chronic medical condition like asthma, diabetes, chest pain, and low oxygen saturations, bluish discolouration of face and lips, confusion or disorientation.
Having any of these symptoms should warrant a prompt visit to the doctor, as antiviral medications are available, which work well when started early in the course of the disease. They should not use over-the-counter medications like antibiotics and steroids, as this is a viral infection, and antibiotics have no role to play. Distinguishing this condition from other bacterial infections is also essential by lab testing, as the management of both conditions is different.
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Prevention from the H3N2 virus is essential. The precautions are similar to those recommended for COVID-19.
Dr Rao said that we should all get our flu vaccine before the monsoon season begins. Dr Sahu said that as prescribed by your doctor, this season's influenza vaccine is recommended for all individuals above six months of age to prevent the incidence and severity of influenza.
Dr Rao stated that every child, from six months till adulthood, should receive an annual flu shot. Oseltamivir, an efficient antiviral medicine, is only available with a prescription and cannot be purchased over the counter. It can be purchased from pharmacies and hospitals and must be taken twice daily for five days. It should be mainly administered to patients in high-risk groups, such as expectant mothers, kids, and adults. Benefits outweigh hazards when given to expectant mothers.
One protective measure is social distancing. We should keep a distance of at least a metre between us when speaking with someone. Using a face mask when going out in public, avoiding crowded places, practising regular hand washing with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitiser, and avoiding touching the face multiple times, can help prevent acquiring the disease. People with mild symptoms should stay indoors and avoid contact with other people.
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