Reported By: Sherine Elizabeth
Edited By: Pathikrit Sen Gupta
Last Updated: March 14, 2023, 16:11 IST
Since December last year, reports have indicated an uptick in cases of influenza-like illnesses in the country. Till March, India has recorded around 900 cases of H1N1 and around 500 cases of H3N2 infections. However, union health ministry sources suggest there is no considerable increase in influenza cases. According to the sources, such seasonal flu keeps happening every year and nothing has changed this time.
Speaking to CNN-News18, co-chair of Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) Dr NK Arora said, “Influenza has been in the country for years and H3N2 and H1N1 have been in the country for years. These influenza viruses are not new. We have a very good surveillance programme in place. ICMR has an extensive network where samples are picked up and we know what is happening. There has been an upsurge in influenza-like illnesses but there is no considerable increase this year. Around this time, Covid-19 cases were occurring last year. Around 30,000 cases were being reported on a daily basis. At the same time over 400-500 cases of influenza were reported but no one paid much attention. Now Covid-19 cases are fewer and hence now influenza cases are more visible and are being reported.”
According to Dr Arora, the symptoms of Covid and influenza are very similar in nature. “You have fever, upper respiratory tract symptoms, nasal congestion. On the basis of symptoms, one cannot say what kind of influenza virus a person is affected by. So on the basis of clinical symptoms, one cannot differentiate. Lab tests in such cases become important to determine what the person is suffering from. Particularly a person with comorbidities like kidney disease, lung disorder, someone who is on medication…they should be more careful. For such people, influenza virus or Covid virus, the risk increases by 6 to 10 times. So the person needs to be careful and get tested,” he said.
Though the symptoms of Covid and influenza are similar, H1N1 or H3N2 are usually not life-threatening like SARS-CoV-2, said Dr Arora. “This is due to biological reasons. Our bodies were exposed to Covid for the first time, hence the risk of infection was higher. Various influenza viruses have been circulating for over 100 years or so and all of us are exposed to them, hence the risk of severity decreases. There are changes in the antigen but the severity is not that concerning,” he said.
However, there are three broad categories of people who are vulnerable to the influenza virus and need to be extra careful, the expert said. “Children less than one-year-old are vulnerable especially if they have comorbidities. Apart from that, people above 60 years are vulnerable. So the extreme age groups and people with comorbidities are the three broad categories that have to be more careful. If symptoms get severe like difficulty in breathing, one should get medical care promptly,” Dr Arora said.
India also appears to be witnessing a rise in Covid cases again. However, Dr Arora said, “From 150 cases to 500 cases is a three-time increase, but if you look at the denominator of 1.4 billion, it is not concerning. There is no local cluster and no data to show any new variant. But we have to keep a close watch. This could be a mix of influenza viruses circulating. Nothing to panic, but be vigilant.”
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