Influenza cases with covid-like symptoms surge, scientists raise concern

NEW DELHI : A fresh surge in influenza cases is being reported across the country with symptoms lasting more than a week, raising concern among scientists even as the incidence of covid-19 abates.

Although the new wave is not causing deaths and hospitalization, the symptoms are similar to those of covid-19 and last for as long as 2-3 weeks, medical scientists said.

As a result, blood samples of patients who test negative for covid-19 are being sent for further testing and sequencing for H1N1, or swine flu.

“A large number of influenza cases are being reported across the country with symptoms lasting more than a week. Although it is not creating to any kind of severity, death or hospitalization, it definitely is making people ill for 2-3 weeks. There is a need for government to investigate in this direction. We will raise the issue of the spike in influenza cases in the health ministry,” said a senior government scientist requesting anonymity.

“There could be a possibility of co-infection with influenza or new variants showing different kinds of clinical scenarios. It is a concern,” said the scientist.

Another scientist at the department of biotechnology said that at present there are no major samples of covid-19 as the trajectory of covid cases is declining.

“These influenza viruses are circulating due to change in season—adeno virus, para influenza. Symptoms of covid-19 and influenza are similar but we need proper studies to understand their clinical presentation. The good thing is that there is no burden on hospitals,” said Dr Samiran Panda, national co-chair at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). 

According to ICMR figures, H3N2, a sub-type of the influenza virus, is in wide circulation for the last two-three months—slightly more than the swine flu virus.

“Influenza virus infections declined globally during the covid-19 pandemic. Loss of natural immunity from lower rates of influenza infection may have resulted in increased susceptibility to influenza virus infection. We are witnessing rampant spread of flu during the last two months. Every other person is down with fever, cough, loss of voice and breathlessness. Uncontrollable cough is a frequent symptom. H3N2 influenza should not be confused with H1N1(Swine flu) which is potentially lethal. Elderly people above 75 years of age and those with compromised immunity may have severe disease, especially due to secondary bacterial infection requiring ICU care,” said Prof G C Khilnani, chairman, PSRI Institute of Pulmonary, Critical care and Sleep Medicine.

Last year there were 13,202 reported H1NI cases, and 410 people died from it. In comparison, 12 people died in 2021 due to H1N1. In the last one month of 31 January, more than 451 cases and nine deaths have been reported.

According to the National Centre for Disease Control’s Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme, the highest number of cases have been reported from Maharashtra.

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