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How to tackle the dreaded flu

About 12,000 people have been infected with swine flu this winter, including 2,278 in Delhi. It’s high time everyone learnt how to take precautions and manage it when it strikes

Swine flu – the very name is so offputting that one doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. So let’s call it by its medical name, flu caused by the H1N1 virus. It did start out as a disease of pigs but the virus spread to humans, which is why currently in Delhi there is a high incidence of the dreaded flu and everyone must know how to take precautions and also tackle the disease if it strikes.

The first thing is to recognize the symptoms. For this, I asked Dr Manoj Kumar, Consultant – Internal Medicine, Fortis Escorts Hospital at Okhla how to distinguish between seasonal flu symptoms and swine flu. How would a patient know when to go for testing?

He says, “Although the symptoms of Swine flu may be same as seasonal flu, but the severity is more. Anyone having symptoms of common flu like cold, cough, fever along with extreme fatigue, abdominal symptoms or breathlessness must consult doctor to determine whether he/she requires to go for testing for swine flu.”

In my view, it is better to ask for home tests, as that would save a visit to a hospital/lab where you can infect others and also pick up other infections. He endorses this view, with the rider that whatever option one chooses, one must go by the advice of the doctor only. One has to use the services of a reliable lab as there are many fake path labs advertising themselves.

If you dread hospitalisation, there is reassuring news. Dr Kumar says, “Hospitalisation is generally not required in a majority of cases. Most can be managed on OPD basis by receiving anti-viral therapy for a week.”

Again, he adds a rider. “Those who are of extreme age group like children and elderly, or with other co-morbidities like conditions involving lungs, poorly controlled diabetics or low immune status may require hospitalisation.”

In fact, since children are vulnerable to the virus, schools have been issuing advisories to parents to make them aware of the risk. One such circular says, “To protect and safeguard your child, we advise you to be alert of the possible symptoms: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.” If infected, the child must stay away from school for at least seven days and be symptom-free for at least 48 hours before resuming school attendance.

In the unfortunate situation of contracting swine flu, doctors’ orders must be followed carefully. These are as important as the course of medicine you might be prescribed. “Maintain good hydration by adequate liquid intake and take proper rest. At the same time, be careful not to spread infection by limiting movement and by not sharing objects like towels, beds and washing hands,” says Dr Kumar.

To this, I must add preventive measures. Get flu vaccination once a year. This is especially important for people with low immunity, who are elderly, or have chronic health conditions. Wash hands properly using soap or sanitiser to prevent spread of the germs. Avoid contact with people who are suffering from swine flu. If you must move around in crowded place, use masks. This is important for people who have low immunity due to various factors and get infected easily, since the disease is highly contagious and spreads through air, mucus and saliva. Cook food in properly sanitised conditions.

Practitioners of alternative measures also advocate certain measures for healthy individuals to boost their immune systems. Some of them are as simple as getting plenty of sleep as lack of it makes your immunity low. Moderate exercise supports immunity.

An immune-boosting diet always helps: this must include fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, carrots , garlic, turmeric, clove as they are chockfull of  antioxidants. Also, sip hot fluids, soups, lemon ginger and honey tea – these are not only soothing but have anti-microbial properties. 

Dr Reshma  is an advocate of wellness, prevention and holistic health. Instagram handle: dr.reshmakhattarbhagat