Written By: Dr Namrata Arora
What is influenza?
Influenza or the flu is a contagious respiratory condition caused by the influenza virus (types A or B). It can present with respiratory symptoms such as cough, sore throat or runny nose. There are also often generalised symptoms like fevers or chills, body aches, fatigue and headaches.
While most people recover from the flu in a few days to 2 weeks, some may develop complications. Sinus and ear infections can occur. More serious and potentially life-threatening complications include infection in the lungs (pneumonia), inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues, and even multi-organ failure.
Those who are at higher risk of complications include the elderly, children, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions (like asthma, diabetes or heart disease).
Diagnosis and Treatment
It is difficult to differentiate influenza from other viral illnesses just by symptoms. Rapid influenza diagnostic tests or molecular assays in the lab (done with nasal swabs or throat swabs) can help with the diagnosis. In suitable cases, antiviral medication can be used to treat the condition.
Prevention and the Influenza Vaccine
Frequent hand washing and wearing masks are helpful in preventing the spread of respiratory viruses. However, the best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated annually. The flu vaccine helps protect against the four influenza viruses that research indicates are most common during the upcoming season.
OT&P offers the quadrivalent flu vaccine injection and the live attenuated intranasal flu vaccine (Flumist) for suitable cases.
The flu vaccine can help prevent you from getting sick with the flu. If you do get sick, getting the vaccine reduces the severity of illness and lowers the risk of flu-associated hospitalization. The flu shot can be beneficial as a preventative tool for people with chronic health conditions. Even if you are healthy, getting the vaccine is an important way of protecting yourself and your loved ones who may be more vulnerable.
According to the Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases in Hong Kong, there is increasing evidence suggesting that co-infection of COVID-19 and influenza increases morbidity and mortality and that influenza vaccination might reduce the likelihood of hospitalisation and the length of stay.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that in the absence of contraindications, all persons aged 6 months or above should receive the influenza vaccine.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, September 10). Influenza (flu). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.
2. Scientific committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases issues recommendations on seasonal influenza vaccination For 2021-22 season in Hong Kong. Scientific committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases. (n.d.). Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202105/12/P2021051200705.htm.