Ignorance is bliss. Not really…

Influenza A mutates faster than influenza B, but both viruses are always changing, creating new strains from one flu season to the next

pic by TMR FILE

SO, YOU’RE one of those walking around in the office sniffling and complaining about how difficult it is to breathe.

You’re not sick enough to be allowed a day of rest, yet, not well enough to continue your work. Do not risk it. Go to the nearby clinic for a check-up.

It could be detrimental if you suddenly get a fever and your temperature climbs to 38°C (100.4°F), especially when your muscles begin to ache and you start to experience those chills and sweat.

Then, there’s the headache along with the dry persistent cough. As you trudge along the office, making others around you feel uncomfortable, you must be reminded that you might get your colleagues infected, too. Chances are, you might have influenza.

Influenza, or commonly known as the flu, can cause painful headaches, body aches and lack of energy, but for some, the virus can be more dangerous, even life-threatening.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu and related complications claimed an estimated 80,000 lives during the 2017-2018 season.

Type A influenza can be dangerous and is known to cause outbreaks and increase your risk of disease. Unlike a type B infection, type A viruses are categorised by sub-types and strains.

Influenza A mutates faster than influenza B, but both viruses are always changing, creating new strains from one flu season to the next.

The good news is, most people who are infected would feel much better within one to two weeks.

The bad news is, most healthy adults become contagious the day before symptoms develop, and this makes it trickier to prevent them from spreading the virus.

Let it also be known that infected people remain infectious for up to five to seven days after the symptoms appear.

Now, this might be that piece of information that could be missing these past few weeks. Everyone seems to be talking about the disease without even knowing what it is all about and the steps that could be taken to remedy the situation.

All the bits of information have also been rather confusing. While certain people (who think they know a lot) are talking about Influenza A or B, other fancier names are also thrown into the mix like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Wuhan Virus, H1N1 (which is actually a subtype of Influenza A).

Let us all be reminded too that during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, quite a number of people in the region died as there was no real cure for the disease.

That’s why it is more advisable for one to go straight to the doctor and get diagnosed instead of trying to sound clever.

Last week, Prince Court Hospital and many other private hospitals were fully-booked with the beds mainly taken up by influenza patients.

Anxiety among the people also spiked after seven-year-old Nur Dinie Damia Muhammad Noor Ain died at Hospital Sultanah Aminah in Johor Baru.

Apparently, it was reported later that she died of kidney failure instead of influenza. By then, the demand for flu vaccine also immediately shot up. Within a short time, most clinics ran out of flu shots.

Now, you might know that getting a flu shot is the best way to protect yourself against the influenza virus. However, if you are already sick at the time of the shot, you may want to hold off until you are feeling better.

According to the US CDC, an annual flu vaccine should ideally be taken by everyone over the age of six months. However, you should talk to your doctor about your symptoms before getting the shot.

If you have just a minor illness or cold, you can still get a flu vaccine, but anything more serious or a fever over 38°C, your healthcare provider would likely recommend you wait.

Let it be known that it might take you longer to recover from your illness or your body may not respond as well as it should to the flu vaccine.

In addition, if you strike a fever after taking the shot, you won’t be able to tell if it is a reaction from the vaccine or due to the illness.

These are the bits of missing information that could have been shared by the Health Ministry, which could at least appease the people.

Instead, we mainly see some power-play among the authorities that seem to be more concerned about their territories and field of expertise. As it is, the ministry only allows its DG Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah to issue statements on the current influenza situation in the country. The decision was made to avoid causing panic among the public.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (picture) denied in a newspaper report that it was part of a strategy to downplay matters involving the infection.

He said the ministry was working closely with the state governments, state health departments and relevant parties on cases involving influenza for a more integrated and coordinated approach on the matter.

“While we do not deny other parties assisting and collaborating with the ministry to raise awareness on health issues especially from the state level, simply issuing statements could trigger an alarm among the public.

“That is why the statements issued by the ministry’s DG will include and comprise a summary of the latest update (on the influenza situation in the country).

“We do not want any form of distraction which is why the ministry is careful as it could create panic,” Dr Dzulkefly said in the report.

Well, dear sir. The least we know, the more we’d be groping dangerously in the dark. What’s your most immediate move then?


Zainal Alam Kadir is the executive editor of The Malaysian Reserve.