Virus alert

Influenza and summer-related diseases are on the rise. Kerala has reasons to worry with the H3N2 virus looming large
Virus alert

KOCHI: With summer intensifying, it is quite normal to experience flu-like symptoms, feel a little woozy. However, this year, health experts advise extra care as cases of influenza and respiratory illnesses are on the rise across India. 

Taking note of the worrying trend, the Union health ministry has directed all states to step up surveillance. With 49 H3N2 and 81 H1N1 cases – both highly contagious variants – being reported as of Wednesday, Kerala has reasons to worry. Overall, the state has reported over one lakh cases of in the past 15 days.

Notably, the new variant, H3N2, has already claimed two lives in the country. On Wednesday,  as precautionary measure, Puducherry announced all schools in the Union Territory will remain shut from March 15 to 26. While health officials in Kerala maintain there is no need to panic, they caution that the elderly, children and people with comorbidities are vulnerable to influenza complications. 

“We have stepped up surveillance in the state. We, however, cannot say influenza cases are going up at an alarming level,” says a senior official of the Directorate of Health Services. “Fever cases are spiralling. We are monitoring clusters, and sending samples for study. High-risk groups should take precautions to avoid complications.”  

Indian Medical Association Kerala Chapter president Dr N Sulphi says the rise in fever cases is “just a seasonal flu outbreak”. “It’s definitely not like Covid-19,” he adds.  “H3N2 is a new flu virus variant here. We need to undertake epidemiological investigation only if the number of cases surges and hospitalisation goes up. In most cases, the flu goes away after a couple of days. If the symptoms persist, one should seek medical help.”

Dr T S Anish, assistant professor (community medicine) at Manjeri Medical College, notes that influenza-like illnesses are seasonal. “It’s a normal phenomenon. If we step up surveillance, we will find more cases. As of now, there is nothing to be scared of,” he says.  “However, it is advisable for people with comorbidities and other high-risk groups to go for influenza shots.” 

Summer woes 
Dr Vidya Vimal, senior consultant pediatrician at GG Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram, also suspects an influenza outbreak as prolonged fever that lasts for five to seven days has become common. “Not just children, many families are down with fever, breathing issues and skin allergies. However, only about 10 per cent of the cases are of serious nature,” she says. 

Former IMA - Kochi president Dr Rajeev Jayadevan explains that the arrival of summer brings several diseases, communicable and otherwise. “Some viruses typically circulate in the summer season,” he says. “Most of these are cyclical viruses that are active only for a few months. It will spread to people through contact, and subside gradually.” 

Water-borne diseases
Most doctors TNIE spoke to warn of water-borne diseases this season. “It is advisable to avoid food and drinks outside. There is a rise in diarrhoea and vomiting cases, too,” says Dr Vidya. President of IMA - Kochi, Dr Sreenivasa Kammath, also warns of quick-spreading waterborne diseases. “In summer, it is essential to keep ourselves hydrated. However, one has to ensure the water is clean,” he says. 

“Due to scarcity and contamination of water, there will be spread of waterborne diseases. The public should be alert.” Dr Rajeev notes more people tend to consume juice and cold drinks from outside to beat the heat during summers. “They can be unhygienic,” he says. 

Geography trouble
Besides infections, Dr Rajeev adds, the rising heat and humidity can cause dehydration, and also lead to complications such as heat stroke. Notably, the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority, too, has issued guidelines to prevent heat-related health issues. 

“The geography of Kerala is unique,” says Dr Rajeev. 

“It is a long, narrow strip of land blocked by the Western Ghats in the east, and the Arabian sea to the west. So the air over Kerala has high water content or humidity. When it is humid, even a slight temperature rise can be perceived by the body as extremely warm.”  

The human body, he explains, has a natural cooling mechanism. “Sweat glands secrete droplets of sweat, which helps to cool the surface of the skin as it evaporates,” he says. “But high humidity reduces evaporation rates, and more heat is perceived. Basically, humidity worsens heat woes.” 

Skin problems
Exposure to the scorching sun and high temperatures can trigger skin problems, too. “People are coming with rashes, itching and fungal infections,” notes Dr Vidya. “It is advisable to avoid sustained sunlight exposure and close contact with people.”

Dr Rajeev highlights dust and dirt that settle on our skin may carry germs. And these germs are passed on to people through contact. “Kerala is a perfect setting for germs, with the garbage and drainage mess,” he adds.

Seasonal care 

Proper hydration. Drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water a day, unless advised otherwise by a doctor. Carry a water bottle while going out

Diet must consist of plenty of fruits, vegetables and fibre 

Wear light-coloured cotton clothes

Avoid fruit juice, soda or other beverages with high sugar content

Use sun protection creams

Always cover your nose and mouth while coughing and sneezing

Regularly wash hands with soap


  •  Excessive meat intake
  •  Being outdoors for long, especially from 11am to 3pm.
  •  Crowded places, close contact with people
  •  Food and drinks from outside

Influenza symptoms

  •  Chills  Coughing  Fever
  •  Nausea  Vomiting   Throat ache/sore throat
  •  An ache in muscles and body
  •  In some cases, diarrhoea 
  •  Sneezing and runny nose

What is H3N2?
It is a subtype of the influenza A virus that infects birds and mammals
In humans, symptoms of H3N2 are similar to those of other types of flu
Some people may also experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea, although these symptoms are more common in children than adults.
The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person
Can lead to complications 

How does it spread?
Primarily through the air, when an infected person coughs or sneezes 
Close contact with infected individuals
Touching a contaminated surface
Can be spread by individuals who are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms

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