Amidst rising H3N2 cases Centre asks States to Increase community awareness

New Delhi: Amid rising A Influenza type H3N2 cases across the country, the union government has advised states and union territories (UTs) to raise community awareness regarding adherence to respiratory and hand hygiene. The centre has also asked the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP)’s state units to keep a vigil and monitor the influenza-like illnesses and severe acute respiratory illnesses (ILIs and SARIs) cases and refer a sufficient number of samples for testing for influenza, SARS-CoV-2, and adenovirus.

Following an inter ministerial review meeting with the NITI Ayog, Rajesh Bhushan, Secretary, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), issued a letter to the states and UTs alreted that an increasing trend of ILI/SARI being observed across the country. There has been an upswing of Influenza A cases observed since the latter half of December 2022, as per integrated sentinel-based surveillance of ILI and SARI.

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In his letter, Bhushan specifically mentioned the preponderance of Influenza A (H3N2) detected in the samples analysed in various labs as a matter of particular concern. As per the Government of India (GoI), young children, the elderly, and people suffering from co-morbidities are particularly at risk and vulnerable to H1N1, H3N2, adenoviruses, etc.

The letter also drew attention to the rising trend in other respiratory diseases in parts of the country. The Union Health Secretary mentioned the gradual rise in the COVID-19 test positivity rates as a concerning issue that needs prompt attention.

"Despite low number of new cases, equally low number of hospitalisations and significant advances made in terms of COVID-19 vaccination coverage, there is still a need to remain vigilant and focus on the five-fold strategy of test-track-treat- vaccination and adherence to COVID-appropriate behavior," informed the health official.

The states and UTs are asked to implement ‘Operational Guidelines for Revised Surveillance Strategy in Context of COVID-19’ in letter and spirit for integrated surveillance of respiratory pathogens presenting as cases of ILI/SARS.

Additionally, the country has also witnessed a rise in Adenovirus cases. Over 25.4 per cent of respiratory samples have tested positive for adenoviruses since January 1, 2023, according to the testing of the samples being done by several of the ICMR's VRDL network labs.

While most of these agents typically cause a similar mild and often self-limiting illness, the letter continued that in some cases an acute respiratory infection with fever and cough, particularly in older people, people with obesity and other comorbidities (like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, chronic renal and liver disease, etc.), as well as pregnant females, may suffer from a more severe manifestation of these diseases requiring hospitalisation.

The centre has called for increased community awareness in terms of covering one’s mouth and nose with a tissue/elbow when coughing or sneezing, avoiding spitting in public places, using a mask in crowded environments, frequent hand washing, etc.

The union health secretary also advised state governments to examine hospital preparedness, including the availability of pharmaceutical drugs, medical equipment, medical oxygen, etc.; to improve human resources' capacity based on current recommendations; and to ensure that people are immunised against COVID-19 and influenza.

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