Tuesday, December 12, 2023

The rise of H3N2 and Covid: Should you be worried?

On 1 April, 2023 Seniors Today hosted their weekly Health Live Webinar with Dr Sohini Sengupta, a Senior Clinical Biochemist who spoke on and answered questions about H3N2 and the rise in Covid cases.

About Dr Sohini Sengupta:

Dr Sohini Sengupta is the Medical Laboratory Director, Redcliffe Labs, India. She is an MD & DNB in Clinical Biochemistry, & FNB in Laboratory Medicine. She is a Corresponding Member from India on the IFCC committees on POCT, & Laboratory Errors & Patient Safety. She is a Green Belt in Six Sigma processes. She has published her research work in national & international journals, and is an invited speaker on varied platforms.

Over the last 3 years we have mostly heard of and been concerned with Covid. But the trend usually before Covid, and even now has stayed such that during these months- Mar- May, there is a prevalence of influenza, which is more commonly called the seasonal flu.

What we are currently facing is a mix of the seasonal flu along with Covid-19.

Influenza is caused by a virus and thus has multiple strains attributed to the mutations that the virus undergoes over a period of time.

A new mutation which we are seeing these days is the H3N2 virus. This is a type of Influenza A, it is thus called Influenza A H3N2.

It is very difficult to differentiate between the symptoms of covid and that of influenza, clinically. So, the advice from Dr Sengupta is to not worry, but at the same time take adequate precautions to keep yourself safe and healthy.

The common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Generalised body ache
  • Malise
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting

In the earlier and more aggressive strains of covid, the patients also complained of loss of taste and smell. The patients afflicted by the newer strain of covid do still complain of loss of taste, however the loss of smell is less prevalent.

But just this point of difference cannot be taken as a definitive marker for covid or influenza infection. This is because some individuals, suffering from the seasonal flu tend to take antibiotics which can also lead to the loss of sense of taste.

Influeza tends to affect children below the age of 8 and the elderly, over the age of 60 years, predominantly.

Covid affects people of all ages, including young adults.

Patients affected by covid also run a higher risk of complications, of not being diagnosed and treated on time.

If your symptoms are fever, sore throat and generalised body weakness, there is no way to clinically ascertain if it is due to covid or the influenza virus. It could very easily be the seasonal flu as it can be the dreadful coronavirus. So, it is best to visit your doctor when you’re experiencing the symptoms so the physician can make a decision on whether you need further evaluation.

The following measures can be taken as a precaution:

  • Masking up again- especially in crowded places.
  • Wash and sanitise your hands frequently
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing
  • Take plenty if oral fluids
  • Avoid using contact greetings like shaking hands

It is well understood that it is all easier said than done, but young children and the elderly age group should take these measures for a healthier and safer life. Young adults should also be encouraged to do the same, especially in crowded places.

If you are moving in a crowded place, it is better to mask up, for your sake and for the sake of others. Even if the other party is not wearing a mask, the chances of you protecting yourself against infection is higher than it is when neither party is wearing a mask. It is best, if both/ all parties wear a mask.

It can also be ensured that the house help wear a mask when they come over. And so do you when the house help is in the vicinity. It can also be applied to visitors coming over.

Presently, there is no advisory against travelling.

H3N2 Diagnosis & Rise of Covid Cases We need to take influenza vaccines annually because the influenza virus undergoes mutations, so the World Health Organisation (WHO) has a body that continuously monitors the influenza virus. They regularly updated their directory and the genomic variations of this virus and give advisories regularly to update the vaccines as well.

These vaccines have a short impact in your body. Within a span of 5-6 months, the antibodies start to wane.

In the younger age group, not will help them build their immunity and avoid being affected by the virus.

In the elderly age group, it helps avoid long term complications, especially in individuals who has comorbidities, that renders the individual immunocompromised.

There are no severe side effects to the vaccine that have been noted till date.

The advantages of getting an influenza vaccine merit the associated side effects such as arm discomfort, low grade fever, etc.

Dr Noor Gill
Dr Noor Gill, MBBS, deciphers the space between heartbeats, figuratively and literally. Powered by frequent long naps and caffeine, she believes that “knowledge without giving back to society is meaningless” and works to make caring cool again.

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