With Chennai still in the grip of influenza cases, persistent cough - one that lasts for longer than usual, particularly at night - is one of the predominant symptoms among those affected. Along with this, doctors are also seeing symptoms of prolonged tiredness as well as breathlessness in some patients.
“Usually, the flu season begins in September and peaks in November. After December-January, the cases dip slowly. But this year, the flu season is still not over, and the infection continues to spread. During November and December, we saw H1N1 cases. As weeks passed, we are seeing H3N2 and influenza B cases. Now, there is also a mixture of viruses circulating such as rhinovirus and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus),” Suresh Kumar, consultant, Infectious Diseases, Apollo Hospitals, said.
Flu cases have been on the rise for the last 60 days, according to Koushik Muthu Raja, professor of Respiratory Medicine at Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Hospital. “On an average, I am seeing around 10 to 15 patients per day in the outpatient department and 10 cases in emergency. The cases have doubled when compared to December,” he said.
Staying on guard
With no let-up in the influenza cases in the city, doctors say that persistent cough is a predominant symptom, and have stressed the need for masking, and annual flu vaccination
Some of the main symptoms
Breathlessness and wheezing
What doctors advise
Rest for 24 to 48 hours
Cover mouth while coughing, sneezing
Wear mask to prevent the spread of infection
Seek medical in case of breathlessness
Elderly, those with co-morbidities must take extra case
Take the flu vaccine
Noting that it was unusual for flu cases to extend up to March, V. Rajendran, professor of Medicine, Government Stanley Medical College Hospital, said, “The predominant symptom is a non-productive cough that lasts for a minimum of one week. The symptoms settle down in most people. However, those with asthma, co-morbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, and pregnant women and elderly persons should be careful,” he said.
The basic difference is in the cough, which does not seem to subside any soon, say doctors. “Cough lasts for three to four weeks. Similarly, weakness and tiredness. The transmission risk is very high especially among family members. We are seeing elderly patients with breathing difficulties, requiring intensive care unit admission and oxygen support, and taking time to settle down,” Dr. Suresh Kumar pointed out.
Cough increasing at night, runny nose, sore throat, fever, tiredness, rare episodes of breathlessness and wheezing are the main symptoms, Dr. Muthu Raja said, adding that they do tests on influenza panel that include both H1N1 and H3N2.
“The reasons for the unusual numbers could be change in viral strains and low respiratory immunity after COVID-19. Flu vaccine is not widely taken. I would recommend it for people with co-morbid conditions such as diabetes, immunity issues, smokers and those aged above 60 years. It will definitely reduce the symptoms and hospitalisation,” he said.
Dr. Suresh Kumar said there was ‘mask fatigue’, and people have stopped wearing masks. “Maybe, due to the continuous use of masks for two years during COVID-19, some temporary immunity existed. People, especially the elderly, who were regularly taking the flu vaccination did not take in the last two years. This could also be a reason for more flu cases now. So, mask adherence and vaccination are important,” he said.
Though the flu virus was not affecting the lungs, risks cannot be taken, Dr. Rajendran said, adding: “It is better to watch till the symptoms subside. Whoever is symptomatic should wear a mask to prevent spread of infection.”