As winter grips the country, do check for flu and pneumonia shots especially important under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When 65-year-old Kiran Kumar (name changed) from Chennai was hospitalised for the third time in the winter of 2019, he knew there was something wrong. Diagnosed with obstructive airway disease and his history of recurrent respiratory tract infection especially during winters, he decided to get the Quadrivalent vaccine (that protects against four different flu viruses). Fortunately, post the vaccination, he has not been hospitalized and has seen a dramatic improvement in his quality of life. As the world and India specifically grapple COVID-19, we look at flu and pneumonia shots and how they can help.
Influenza is a respiratory illness caused by either of the four viral strains, A, B, C and D, out of which A and B have the potential to cause a severe infection. Both influenza and SARS-Cov-2 are RNA viruses, both spread through droplets and can lead to acute lung injury and acute respiratory distress. Seasonal flu can be found peaking between August-December and is way more common than COVID-19. “Influenza-like-illness (ILI) can be diagnosed as possible flu and have symptoms of common cold, dengue, malaria and other viral illnesses including COVID-19. Pneumonia is a major health burden in India, being the second leading cause of deaths in children, about half the deaths caused due to pneumonia in the world happen in India Pneumonia can be a complication as a result of both flu and COVID-19 viral infection,” explains Dr. Pragnya Rao, General Physician & Medical Author at MFine.
Prevention better than cure
To prevent influenza, there are two influenza vaccines commercially available and recommended for clinical use, Standard‑dose trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) and Standard‑dose Quadrivalent IIV. These reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization for children, working age adults and older adults. Dr Aviral Roy, Consultant, Critical Care, Medica Superspecialty Hospital, Kolkata avers, “these vaccines have become even more important now. This is because if someone is recovered from COVID and gets affected by bacterial Pneumonia or other influenza then the risk of getting infected by severe diseases becomes more.” Dr. Natasha Kazi, Medical Officer and De-addiction Consultant, Rajasthan Aushadhalaya Private Limited, Mumbai corroborates with the case of a 45-year-old male patient. “The patient has asthma for the past ten years and a recurrent wheezing history. He developed a lower respiratory infection, which quickly escalated to complications and hospitalization due to pre-existing asthma. Asthma reduces the innate immune and T-helper cell response. Post recovery, he was advised to get flu shots (TIV) annually. The vaccination has improved his health as he has better immunity to prevent respiratory complications.”
Do note that flu vaccine does not cause flu illness. “Flu shots are made with either a single gene from the virus to produce an immune response without causing infection or a ‘killed’ virus that is not infectious,” says Dr. Samrat Shah, Consultant Internist, Bhatia Hospital Mumbai. Some people feel unwell after receiving the flu vaccine. “This happens as the body is adjusting to introduction of the antigen and triggers an immune response, which may cause headache, low-grade fever and muscle aches. Symptoms usually last 1 to 2 days,” adds Shah. The vaccines have alternates that are being launched to make them more affordable. Vaccines may be a key going forward, for now ensure you stay safe and get the flu shots.
Read the full story that first appeared in The New Indian Express dated Nov 8, 2020 here: