NOW that many are going out again to resume their lives’ normal routines, much focus is also placed on staying healthy and not being hit or infected by viruses, like the flu virus.

Because of the debilitating impact of Covid-19, many still opt to wear face masks as a prime mode of protection. Admittedly, many viruses are still out there, even Covid-19.

Data from the Department of Health (DOH) from September 4 to 10, 2023 indicated that there were 894 new Covid-19 cases recorded for an average daily count of 128. This is 15 percent higher than cases recorded from August 28 to September 3.

However, aside from Covid-19, other viruses are still present out there, one of which is the influenza virus.

Influenza and our health

THE World Health Organization (WHO) described influenza as a “sudden onset of fever, cough [usually dry], headache, muscle and joint pain, severe malaise [feeling unwell], sore throat and runny nose.” The global health agency noted that “though people recover from fever and other symptoms within a week without requiring medical attention, influenza can cause severe illness or death, especially in people at high risk.”

According to Dr. Kevin Bautista, Associate Professor at the UP-College of Medicine, Consultant at the Division of Pediatric Pulmonology at UP-PGH and Associate Medical Affairs Manager for Respiratory and Vaccines of GlaxoSmithKline Philippines, influenza is one of the most common health issues people should look out for during the rainy season. Aside from the symptoms noted by WHO, influenza symptoms may also include vomiting and diarrhea, especially among children.

Vigilance and close monitoring of the child’s symptoms are required of parents, says Dr. Bautista. “While mild illness may not require a visit to the ER, certain warning signs should prompt immediate medical attention.”

These warning signs include fast or having trouble breathing, bluish nails, ribs pulling in with each breath, chest pain, severe muscle pain such as the child doesn’t want to walk, dehydration, seizures, over 40°C fever, any fever for children aged less than 12 weeks, and chronic worsening of medical conditions.

“If any of these warning signs are observed in a child, seeking medical care right away is crucial. Parents should contact their healthcare provider for advice or visit the emergency room, especially if the person is at higher risk of flu complications or if there are concerns about the illness,” Dr. Bautista explained.

Shielding children

IT is vital that kids are shielded from colds, cough and the flu during this season, Dr. Bautista emphasized. Encourage children to wash their hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Parents should regularly clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces at home like light switches and doorknobs to minimize the spread of the virus. Children should be taught about proper respiratory etiquette like avoiding touching their nose, mouth and eyes, or covering their mouth and nose with a piece of tissue or their elbow when coughing or sneezing.

One way parents can help their kids build a tough immune system against influenza, Dr. Bautista said, is through an annual flu vaccination. Studies have shown that the flu vaccine can effectively reduce the incidence of flu-related illnesses and minimize the risk of severe complications, including hospitalization and potential fatalities. Preventive practices such as avoiding close contact with sick people, covering coughs and sneezes, and regular hand hygiene practice, he added, is also important to help prevent contracting and spreading the virus.

Receiving the flu vaccine is also important to prevent the onset of flu, especially for pregnant women. “If they receive flu vaccination, they not only protect themselves from flu during and after pregnancy but also safeguard their infants in the early months of life,” Dr. Bautista stressed.

Even food consumption and diet are vital body protectors against the flu. Dr. Bautista cited the Cleveland Clinic’s suggestion of incorporating immune-boosting food types in one’s diet and not just when sick. “By maintaining a proper diet, one does not only accelerate one’s recovery when one falls ill but also potentially reduces the risk of getting sick in the first place.”

He suggested Vitamin C-rich foods such as citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, kiwi, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, and tomatoes, are among those food types that can support a strengthened immune system. It is also important to avoid, he said, certain food and beverages that can worsen symptoms or weaken the body’s ability to fight the illness.

He suggested refraining from drinking alcoholic beverages, caffeine-laced drinks like coffee, black tea, and soda since caffeine causes dehydration, milk and cheese which can thicken the mucus and worsen congestion, high-sugar food that can cause inflammation, or spicy food that can trigger a runny nose or worsen congestion. It is also best to limit outdoor activities during the rainy season and just stay at home and get plenty of rest, especially when feeling unwell, and keep constantly hydrated to support the respiratory system and help thin the mucus.

“Parents can tell their children that flu is not a mild illness, especially among the at-risk population, and guide them to understand the full benefits of being vaccinated against influenza. Influenza vaccine is a cost-effective measure, ultimately saving families and entire healthcare systems. Hopefully, we can enhance the well-being and way of life for children, consequently lowering the chances of infections and the resulting complications that stem from influenza,” Dr. Bautista ended.

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