Viral illnesses such as influenza have been on the rise in the UAE over the last few weeks, doctors say. Covid cases have decreased in number and severity, while the number of influenza cases have increased.
Dr Kiran Kumar, Head of the Internal Medicine Department at Thumbay University Hospital, said that SARS-CoV-2 was the predominant virus in the last three years, and the majority of the population was not exposed to influenza and thus became susceptible to it.
“One of the major reasons for the rise in flu is regulations around the masks and social distancing being relaxed. [This] has provided a good opportunity for the virus to spread from person to person,” Dr Kumar said. “Inﬂuenza virus [does not lead] to severe diseases [such as] pneumonia or respiratory failure. Most individuals recover from upper respiratory illness and bronchitis-like symptoms,” said Dr Kumar.
However, doctors also mentioned that the difference this time is that the fever-illness lasts for a longer duration, sometimes up to 5-7 days, needing hospital visits and admission for IV medications at times.
Doctors also stated that many cases had been recorded among school children. “Schools are a breeding ground for flu, as one affected child might spread it to the others. From children, it spreads to parents and others at home, increasing the caseload,” Dr Riyas Ebrahim Kunju, specialist Pediatrician, Aster Clinic, Al Nadha, Sharjah.
Why do flu cases rise in the winter?
There are many reasons which can contribute to a higher incidence of illness during winter. Some have to do with the viruses and some with human behaviour. "Virus transmission is easier when the weather is cold and dry,” added Dr Kumar.
He also said that people tend to stay indoors which increases the chances of person-to-person spread. “Lack of exercise and low vitamin D levels also could contribute to increased susceptibility to ﬂu during winter,” said Dr Kumar.
“People experience high-grade fever, body aches, headache, fatigue, and so on. In children, some might experience diarrhea,” said Dr Kunju.
“There is no way we can distinguish between covid and flu unless we do an influenza test or RT-PCR test,” said Dr Kunju.
Doctors believe there is a signiﬁcant overlap in the symptoms of Covid and inﬂuenza, and it would not be correct to rely on symptoms alone to differentiate the two. However, certain factors do help make the distinction. “Most importantly, having an influenza case in the family the strongest predictor that the patient’s symptoms are due to inﬂuenza and not Covid. We have observed more cases of Inﬂuenza presenting as high-grade fever up to 40°C both in children and adults,” said Dr Kumar.
Precautions to take
Doctors say that maintaining hand hygiene and avoiding close contact with persons with respiratory illness is a simple and effective way to prevent illness and the spread of viruses. “Also, those with symptoms should take additional responsibility and wear masks (voluntarily) if going to places where close contact is possible, to prevent spread to others,” said Dr Kumar.
Dr Kunju listed some healthy habits to adopt to protect oneself against the flu.
1. Avoid close contact with people who are sick
2. Stay home when you are sick
3. Cover your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing
4. Wash your hands often
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth when ill
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