There is a new and stronger influenza (flu) strain that is making people sick, Dr. Ryan Llorin, an Infectious Diseases specialist at St. Luke’s Medical Center, confirms in an interview with ANCX. “Influenza is generally bad and easily transmissible. But what makes this particular strain dangerous is it’s a new strain that we are not immune to. Most of us have no protective antibodies against it by virtue of first contact exposure and the flu vaccine formulated in the past year likely does not cover this strain,” Dr. Llorin explains.
According to Dr. Llorin, viruses change its genetic makeup through mutation. So when a virus changes its structural makeup, our immune system cannot recognize it, so it’s not able to put up its defense very fast. “It allows the virus to enter our body and do damage, manifesting through colds, cough, fever, etc.” This is also the reason why the new flu virus strain is easily transmissible, though manifestations can vary from mild to severe, depending on a person’s genetic makeup.
Nevertheless, Dr. Llorin clarifies that unlike Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), H1N1 (swine flu), or avian (bird) flu, the new flu strain should not cause panic and alarm. “The 2009-2010 influenza virus was more dangerous, more virulent… because even young, healthy persons were dying of it, not just the elderly—that’s the scary kind of virus. This is not the case with the particular virus that’s circulating now. For one, we haven’t seen young people dying. Two, the deaths were caused by influenza complications—pneumonia or acute respiratory diseases,” he says. While there are more people getting hospitalized for it, he debunks the rumors that there is an existing influenza outbreak in the Philippines. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a disease outbreak as “the occurrence of disease cases in excess of normal expectancy.”
Just the same, Dr. Llorin advises everyone to take extra caution as the seasonal virus, the one afflicting many right now, also causes morbidity—“you won’t be able to work or do your daily routine due to coughs and colds—that’s the worst that can happen to you.” At high risk to the seasonal viruses are the elderly, the young children, those who are pregnant, and those with heart and lung problems—“these are the people who are likely to die of influenza complications, due to seasonal virus.”
Dr. Llorin says our best line of defense is to get not just an influenza vaccine, but also a pneumococcal vaccine. He also stresses the importance of eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting enough rest, and practicing good hygiene—“when you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and your nose with tissue, and wash your hands after.”
It is also best to avoid being in close proximity to others if you have a cough and a cold. If you are infected, it is best to simply stay at home and rest. Avoid going to crowded places; but if you really can’t avoid it, wear a face mask. The use of a face mask is highly recommended as well for those people who work in hospitals, urgent care clinics, and emergency rooms.
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