Amid rising cases of the H3N2 influenza virus, concerns mount as people wonder whether H3N2 could possibly turn out to be the next Covid-19.
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India has reported two deaths from the H3N2 subtype of the Influenza A virus, one each in Karnataka and Haryana. The country has also reported over 3000 cases of the virus across different states. The recent uptick in intense cough lasting over a week coupled with fever in several parts of the country has been linked to the H3N2 virus by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
Doctors have advised resuming COVID-era preventive protocols to live with evolving viruses. However, they have also urged the public not to panic. The sudden spike in cases is due to the lack of exposure to influenza during the COVID-induced lockdowns, especially among children. Doctor Dhiren Gupta of the Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi has stated that the H3N2 virus is antigenic drift and a mild mutation but is not life-threatening.
Dr. Parvinder Singh Narang, the head of the paediatrics department at Max Super Speciality Hospital in Delhi, said there has been a rise in flu and flu-like illnesses since the start of the Covid pandemic. This is because people have stopped using proper hygiene practices such as regular mask-wearing and handwashing, especially since schools have reopened. Although children usually recover from the flu, they can still spread the virus to others.
Pulmonologist Anurag Agrawal does not expect a massive wave of cases. Senior consultant of internal medicine at Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, Tarun Sahani, stated that hospital admissions for the virus have not been common, and only about 5% of cases have required hospitalisation.
Virologist Upasana Ray noted that lockdowns and extensive mask use have helped control the transmission of more virulent versions of the virus but have also prevented good exposure to regular seasonal respiratory viruses.
As the number of hospitalizations due to the spread of the H3N2 virus increases, people are becoming increasingly concerned. According to Randeep Guleria, the Chairman of the Institute of Internal Medicine Education, the H3N2 virus is a mutated version of the H1N1 virus that spreads every year around this time. The increase in the number of cases is due to the mutation of the virus, as well as the changing weather conditions and the absence of mask-wearing in the current non-Covid state. Guleria emphasized that the lack of masks and increased crowding allows the virus to spread more easily.
What is H3N2?
H3N2 is a type of influenza virus that falls under the category of flu-causing viruses. Influenza viruses are classified into four different types: A, B, C, and D. Influenza A has several subtypes, and H3N2 is one of them. The CDC reports that H3N2 caused a flu pandemic in 1968, leading to approximately one million deaths worldwide and 100,000 deaths in the US.
Symptoms of H3N2
H3N2 symptoms resemble flu-like symptoms, such as cough, fever, body aches, headaches, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and extreme fatigue. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are less common. The virus typically lasts for five to seven days, and coughing may continue for up to three weeks. Children and the elderly with pre-existing conditions are more susceptible to contracting the virus.
To prevent the virus’s spread, medical experts recommend maintaining good personal hygiene by regularly washing hands, carrying hand sanitisers, avoiding contact with infected individuals, and eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Drinking plenty of fluids and consuming home-cooked meals with low-fat and low-spice content can boost immunity.