It’s not unusual to learn that your child has caught a virus going around her preschool or childcare centre. In fact, Megan Heng, 4, among the 25 per cent of kids in her class who came down recently with the flu, was hospitalised after suffering a high fever for four days.
Says her mother Mabel Tan, “The doctor said she had influenza A, which is highly contagious. It was a difficult time as Megan was listless, nor was she eating well.”
Influenza is a common virus that affects the upper respiratory tract ― as the virus mutates easily, recurrent attacks are the result.
Stressing just how contagious influenza is, Dr Leong Hoe Nam, medical director at Rophi Clinic, points out, “Every 10 patients will pass it on to 16 patients.”
“The influenza virus causes symptoms like a fever, headache and muscle ache.”
He also explained the difference between a “cold” and “flu”. When you have a cold, your symptoms include a sore throat, cough and a runny nose. Adds Dr Leong, “In contrast, the influenza virus causes symptoms like a fever, headache and muscle ache, though cold-like symptoms may appear later in the illness.”
Flu treatment is in the form of drugs like Oseltamiver (or Tamiflu) or Zenamivir (taken by inhalation). A topical mouth wash like Betadine can also help to improve the symptoms of influenza, Dr Leong adds.
It is the proteins found on the outer surface that distinguish the various Influenza A strains Dr Leong explains, “You can think of H and N as code names to separate the viruses based on their outer appearances.” Examples of such strains are H1N1, H5N1 and H7H9.
He notes that the prevalent strain at present is H3N2, which is responsible for 80 per cent of the flu cases here in recent weeks.
He also urges the public to get the 4-in-1 flu vaccine (available since late last year), since it is more comprehensive than the 3-in-1 vaccine.
Follow these tips to avoid catching or spreading Influenza A:
* Get a jab.
* Avoid going to crowded places.
* Wear a face mask ― it can prevent you from catching the virus.
* If your child is sick, keep him at home.