Gone are the days when we used to shrug off an influenza infection.
A jog or a gym workout that made you sweat was enough to manage it. In worst cases the usual over-the-counter medication was enough. In a week the infection would be gone.
But as we have learnt this winter, and over the past two or three years, flu is increasingly becoming a cause for serious morbidity, even death not only in small children, the elderly or the immuno-compromised but also the so-called physically strong young to middle-aged adults.
As we report elsewhere in this edition, a bug has hit the country this winter, forcing the early closure of three schools in Nyanga in Manicaland and causing much illness among thousands of people elsewhere. In Nyanga, always among the coldest places in the country, an acute respiratory infection affected over 300 people, prompting the Ministry of Health and Child Care to recommend the early closure of the schools.
The worst affected were young people aged between zero and 17 years. Those who contracted the infectious disease were complaining of coughing, flu and headache. They were also having high temperature. Other symptoms are commonly associated with malaria.
We quote a medical doctor in our lead story warning that buying medication over the counter was not the right approach as drugs obtained this way may not treat the flu strain that has hit us. He attributed the severity of the disease to a comparably colder winter season this year than previous years.
“This kind of flu is dangerous and may lead to pneumonia and death if people delay seeking proper medical attention,” he said.
“We are likely to have more cases as we transition into the hot season. We have had cases of people who developed pneumonia due to that and it’s a normal pattern, considering that this winter was very cold. Flu is caused by a virus so when one has flu they experience an irritation on the throat going downwards which is called the oropharyngeal area. . . . You start giving patients antibiotics when they produce creamish or yellowish, greenish mucus which means there is transformation from viral to bacterial phase. Patients at this phase may be given antibiotics immediately when their immune system is weak and they are prone to pneumonia. If you address the cause you apply the use of antibiotics and it’s up to the doctor to see improvement and do further tests. They can do a chest X-ray to check for bronchopneumonia. They shouldn’t rely on cough mixtures especially now as this strain of flu can cause pneumonia and if they delay they may die.”
The Ministry of Health and Child Care will hold a high-level meeting today to discuss the outbreak, an indication that indeed we are faced with a challenge worth Government attention.
Our people have to understand that some common diseases that we took in our strides with ease are getting more virulent. It is no longer safe to ignore them as a passing nuisance.
We therefore warn them to always seek medical attention every time they feel unwell. We are particularly concerned if young children present with some of the symptoms of flu — coughing, runny nose, high temperature and so on. Parents and guardians need to take these seriously and rush to the clinic or hospital for the kids to access conventional medical attention.
Children cannot express themselves too well, thus may not articulate how they are feeling for their parents or guardians to grasp the full extent of their discomfort. For us to be on the safer side, any child with signs and symptoms of the disease must be taken to a medical facility.
Winter is not completely over yet. Even if it was, there will be yet another one next year. Even if it was, there will be cold spells here and there from now until next winter. The Bulawayo medical doctor blamed the bitterly cold winter for the flu outbreak. He might be right if one considers the severity of the Nyanga case as the Manicaland district is almost always wintry. It is advisable therefore, for our people to try to keep warm and eat well all the time.
While we have noted that common approaches to tackling flu, such as jogging or gym workouts are no longer good enough, we have to note that regular exercise can help. Illnesses are ordinarily known to be more serious on people of weaker physical conditions. This is why medical doctors are warning that those of us who are not strong enough can deteriorate when infected by the current bug. So we encourage our people to exercise more regularly. This, obviously is not all they must do — they still need to consult their doctors when they are unwell.