Besides Covid, swine flu and Hong Kong flu are also spreading in NepalDoctors advise administering flu shots to elderly people and children at the earliest.
Although the Covid-19 cases have of late significantly declined, infections from H1N1 also known as swine flu, and AH3 (Hong Kong flu), have been reported continuously from various places across the country.
Doctors have warned the public not to take the infections of H1N1 and AH3 viruses lightly, as the said viruses could be deadly and many people have succumbed to them in the past.
“Some noted politicians and bureaucrats, among others, have died of infection of the H1N1 virus in our country,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun. “We should not underestimate the risk of infection of seasonal flu, which is generally caused by the H1N1 virus in our country.”
According to the World Health Organisation’s Global Influenza Surveillance, at least 319 cases of H1N1 infection have been reported in Nepal since the start of 2022. Similarly, 294 cases of the AH3 virus have been reported in the same period.
Both H1N1 and AH3 viruses are highly contagious and spread from person to person by airborne droplets of infected persons.
Doctors advise one and all to avoid crowds, wear face masks that not only protect from infection from various viruses but also from polluted air, wash hands frequently and maintain social distance.
Doctors say all cases of H1N1 or AH3 do not enter government records, as there is no trend of carrying out mandatory tests as in Covid-19. Currently, healthy people headed for abroad have been undergoing coronavirus tests. Doctors recommend influenza testing for ailing people admitted to hospitals for treatment of other diseases.
“Neither could we carry out tests nor keep a proper record of infections,” said Pun. “What we should not forget is neither Covid-19 nor swine flu has gone anywhere. The virus is continuously circulating in communities and people are getting infected.”
Health experts warned that the H1N1 virus, which is no less severe than the coronavirus, could result in a twindemic in the country.
“Even health workers are unaware of the spread of the H1N1 virus,” said Dr Prabhat Adhikari, an infectious disease and critical care expert. “Vaccines against influenza are available in the market and those who can afford take the shots at the earliest.”
Of late, major hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley have reported a surge in new cases of respiratory illnesses.
Doctors say most of the viruses—adenovirus, rhinovirus, and seasonal influenza—become active in the winter season.
According to doctors at the Bir Hospital, around 150 patients suffering from respiratory diseases have been visiting its outpatient and emergency departments every day.
Doctors say most symptoms of the H1N1, AH3 and coronavirus overlap, which can cause confusion and lead to misdiagnosis. In both infections (coronavirus and influenza), patients suffer from fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, vomiting and diarrhoea, among other symptoms.
“All the said viruses cause respiratory illnesses and if not treated on time, they
cause severity and deaths,” said Adhikari. “Those who are yet to take the Covid-19 vaccine should get immunised immediately. One should take flu shots to avoid the severity of the infection of seasonal influenza. Elderly people, pregnant women, small children, and those with impaired immunity must take flu shots to cut the risk of pneumonia.”
The government doesn’t provide flu shots for free. Nor does it advise people to take one. Majority of Nepalis cannot afford flu and pneumonia vaccines, as they are costly, although the shots are available in the market.
Several deaths have been recorded in Nepal from the sublineage of influenza A virus—H1N1 and others.
The World Health Organisation says mortality from Covid-19 appears higher than that of influenza, especially seasonal influenza.
“For seasonal influenza, mortality is usually below 0.1 percent,” reads a report from the WHO. “However, mortality is to a large extent determined by access to and quality of health care.”
Doctors say the annual flu vaccine is a safe and effective way to ward off the flu. The vaccine helps the body develop antibodies to several strains of the influenza virus, which helps protect against infection from worsening.