H3N2 influenza cases are on rise, especially among children below 5 years and it is important to get them vaccinated to prevent severe disease and hospitalisation. Children with certain medical conditions and those younger than 2 are at increased risk of hospitalisation due to influenza. The frequently noticed symptoms of H3N2 influenza are colds, cough, fever, runny nose, blocked nose, sore throat, breathing issues, diarrhoea, headaches, vomiting, dehydration, lethargy, weakness, among others. The symptoms in many recent cases of H3N2 influenza are taking 2-3 weeks to recover and this can be problematic for children. In severe cases, pneumonia and other life-threatening complications may occur. (Also read: H3N2 Influenza: Signs and symptoms of severe illness to watch out for)
"There has been upsurge in cases of fever and respiratory infections across the country which is being mainly caused by H3N2 strain of Influenza A virus as per Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Influenza is an acute febrile highly contagious respiratory infection causing high fever, chills, body aches, headaches followed by sore throat, rhinitis and productive cough. The recovery is uneventful in most cases within 7 days. Apart from these common symptoms, persistent fever lasting 5 to 7 days, difficulty in breathing (pneumonia) and abnormal body movements (seizures) are also seen in small proportion of cases. At present H3N2 strain accounts for nearly 50% of all inpatient respiratory admissions for infections. A person is infectious from 1 day before to 7 days after the onset of symptoms," says Dr Abhishek Chopra, Consultant Neonatologist and Paediatrician, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, New Delhi (Punjabi Bagh).
Influenza occurs throughout the year, but its incidence has distinct peaks in most geographical areas with each season. The factors responsible for increased case load in winters are the effect of humidity and temperature on virus survival along with crowding in home in winters. India witnesses two peaks overall, major peak during winter (Jan to April) and minor during post monsoon (August to October).
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Tips to prevent H3N2 influenza
- Wash hands with soap and water frequently
- Wear masks and avoid crowded places
- Avoid touching nose and eyes along with covering mouth and nose while sneezing.
- Physical contact should be avoided and infected person should avoid spitting and social interaction.
- Antibiotics should not be taken without doctor, prescription and paracetamol should be taken for fever.
- Vaccination is the most effective modality to prevent influenza transmission.
Vaccination tips for children
"Children younger than 5 years especially those younger than 2 years and children with certain medical conditions are at increased risk of hospitalisation due to influenza. Emphasis should be placed to ensure that high risk and vulnerable children and their household contacts and caregivers receive annual influenza vaccine," says Dr Chopra.
Vaccination for kids below 5
Opt for home vaccination services for children especially below 5 years of age if you are scared of taking them to the hospital or public places.
Who should receive vaccination
"The vaccine is currently recommended in children aged 6 months to 5 years of age and also in high-risk children aged 5 years such as those with chronic cardiac, pulmonary (excluding asthma), hematologic, renal, liver condition, congenital or acquired immunodeficiency. The number of vaccine doses depends on child, age at first dose administration, and influenza vaccination history," says Dr Chopra.
The right dose
"Children aged 6 months through 8 years of age who are receiving vaccine for first time should receive two doses of vaccine 4 weeks apart while a single dose is sufficient for children above 9 years of age. All children should receive vaccines annually till 5 years of age," according to Dr Chopra.
H3N2: Vaccination, treatment for adults
"WHO recommends that pregnant women should be vaccinated as they are at increased risk of severe disease. Health care personnel should also receive influenza vaccination to prevent influenza and reduce health care associated influenza virus infections. Vaccination should start at least 2 to 4 weeks before onset of season. The vaccine is safe. Oseltamivir is the drug approved by WHO for treatment of influenza. The drug is most effective when started within 48 hours of illness and is generally given to sick hospitalised patients," says Dr Chopra.
However, the silver lining is with the arrival of summers, influenza cases are likely to decline. But till then one should continue to take precautions as this is our best weapon against the seasonal disease.