Influenza is a viral infection commonly called as flu that attacks the respiratory system - nose, throat and lungs. It affects people of all ages, especially children and those with low immunity. Pregnant women and elderly are also at high risk of influenza.
Flu viruses travel through the air in droplets when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes or talks. One can inhale the droplets directly, or can pick up the germs from an object, such as a telephone or computer keyboard and then transfer them to eyes, nose or mouth. People with the virus are likely contagious from the day before symptoms first appear until five to 10 days after symptoms begin.
Peak flu season may begin as early as August till October and run through May. The chances of someone catching a flu is more during the rainy season. The best time to get a flu shot is as soon as it is available, usually in July till September or October. It takes about 2 weeks for the shot to be most effective. You can still get the vaccine in December or later, but the earlier in flu season you get it, the better your odds of staying well.
Although influenza vaccine can be taken by anyone over six months of age, health experts say children below 14 and adults above 50 are at a higher risk. Flu can also be more severe for pregnant women, those with serious illness like heart or respiratory diseases and weakened immune systems.
Dr. Pankaj Garg, Sr.Consultant Neonatologist, Sir Gangaram Hospital, says the time has come when we must consider including flu amongst our mass vaccine programs before it becomes a serious issue.
"As of now it is not on the top of our national priority but we must take adequate precautionary measures through mass vaccination programs. The Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP) lists influenza vaccination only for those who have high-risk. But we should now consider whether we can make it compulsory for all," he said.
Common symptoms include a high fever that begins suddenly, muscle/body aches, chills, tiredness, and sudden onset. Influenza frequently causes people to miss school and work but in some cases there are severe complications such as pneumonia.
Transmission of epidemic seasonal influenza in school settings well documented and can be explosive and fast moving, affecting a sizeable proportion of students and staff contact with a sick person, sharing a classroom with a sick person, staying in the hostels, school-related activities involving large gatherings.
Dr Pankaj Garg says, Children are the future of any nation but heavy burden of Influenza may impair their daily life. They miss school and also become very weak. When we have vaccinations to prevent flu at right time then why not.
IAP recommends that everyone six months of age and older receive an annual vaccination. Vaccination is now available in 2 forms - Nasal & Injectable and either one can be taken.