RADIO, television, print - all together are constantly warning about the seemingly-geometric rise in the incidence of flu or influenza or “trangkaso.” Hospitals in Metro Manila are full of patients, and more so especially in the government hospitals all over the country.
Of course, our ever-vigilant Baguio continue to disseminate the medical bulletin issued by the Department of Health in terms of prevention and more importantly, it’s more serious and potentially mortal complications like pneumonia.
Influenza is an acute-sudden onset- viral respiratory infection accompanied by fever, chills, headache, generalized malaise-joint, muscle, nerve aches - most pronounced in the back and legs. Sore throat cough, profuse nasal discharge –rhinorrhea – and gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
In this junction, may we remind our dear readers and friends that although the term “stomach flu” is often heard and spoken of, influenza viruses rarely cause gastrointestinal symptoms. In other words, stomach flu, also known as the 24’hour flu is caused by viruses other than the influenza viruses.
The pathogens or microbes that cause influenza are type A, B, C.- for the interest of our learners, these are single stranded RNA viruses in the family of Orthomyxovirus. It is the A strain which cause severe symptoms and is associated with devastating pandemics ex. Spanish flu. The B and C strains usually do not cause widespread epidemics although some virologists and infectious disease-experts are now suspecting that there may have been a significant mutation in the viruses which explain the alarming increase in incidence of flu, which cannot be solely attributed to the chilly northeast Amihan cold winds.
Infected humans are the primary reservoir/source of the virus with pigs – take note, 2019 is Earth Pig year, pun intended – as well as birds also serve as reservoir. Pigs are problematic sources because their cells have receptors for both the avian/bird and human strains of the influenza virus, thus pigs serve as – from the point of view and parlance of microbiologists “mixing bowls” resulting in new strains of the viruses with increased pathogeneticity or ability to cause disease. In fact, the 1918 flu pandemic which wiped out countless humans in Europe was caused by an avian influenza virus that jumped directly from bird to humans. We all know by now that transmission occurs via airborne spread – sneezing, coughing, direct contact with nasal discharges like soiled tissue paper, handkerchief of a patient. Thus hand washing is a big big must!
Being a viral disease, antibiotics are not indicated or needed.
Symptomatic and supportive treatment would suffice but they should be imposed strictly like home rest to isolate the patient, preventing him from infecting other people and at the safe time protecting him from people who might infect him/her more, considering that the immune system is compromised to start with. Antipyretics for the fever, analgesic for the aches, balanced diet with fruits and veggies, lots of water, enough sleep, and a lot of common sense like keeping warm and comfortable amidst the very cold weather.
Under the most ideal situations, like the items mentioned above, flu, like most viral diseases are self-limiting meaning, in a few days, the signs and symptoms would gradually disappear until the person is back on his/her feet again, good as new, as if the infection did not happen at all. However, depending on age- the very young and the very old – and those with co – morbidities like diabetes, heart disease, COPD/smokers, the flu may just segue into more serious complications the most dreaded of which is pneumonia, in which there is a marked aggravation of the cough, chills and fever, chest pains, shortness of breath and dyspnea, which could lead to death.
Fortunately, we do have vaccines for both flu and pneumonia. However, our pediatricians – they who have most of the vaccines, although some doctors may also have – graciously begged off saying the strain of dominant virus in the North and Southern hemisphere will still be determined by the World Health Organization and other agencies, hoping that vaccines for flu will be available by April. Meanwhile, let’s take good care of ourselves.