Last Updated on 2 years by Publishing Team
While COVID-19 case numbers continue to remain low and trend downwards, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services has noted an increase in people presenting with influenza-like illness at our health centres and hospitals. Surveillance testing is also showing an increase in lab-confirmed cases of influenza, though currently, the numbers are within the expected for this time of the year. We have also had 2 confirmed influenza cases admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) at CWM Hospital in the last week.
Before the pandemic, Fiji’s influenza season typically began in January and ended by May/June. However, in 2020 and 2021 there was a marked decrease in cases of influenza detected, a trend that was also seen in other countries. It is likely that public health and social measures deployed for COVID-19 worked to decrease other respiratory viruses, including influenza. The current increase in cases suggests a return to pre-pandemic levels of seasonal influenza, however, it is also possible that decreased incidence of influenza in recent years will have led to decreased immunity in the community, and subsequently more people becoming ill than in a usual flu season.
Therefore, we are asking everyone to take precautions to avoid becoming infected with influenza.
What is influenza (“the flu”)?
Influenza is caused by influenza viruses, of which there are many different strains that change year to year. Some mild influenza symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, cough, or sore throat may be similar to the common cold, however, influenza is not the same as the common cold, as it can lead to serious diseases such as pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) especially in babies, people over age 60, pregnant women, people who have non-communicable diseases (e.g. lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes), the obese, and those who smoke.
Cough, sore throat, muscle/body aches, headache, fatigue, runny nose, sneezing, vomiting, and diarrhoea (more common in children).
While most people will develop these symptoms and recover in about 7-10 days, some will develop more serious illnesses that will require hospitalization. Please immediately seek medical care if you develop any of the following symptoms:
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or heaviness in the chest, inability to stay awake or confusion, or any other symptom of concern (e.g. severe vomiting)
How is it spread?
You can catch influenza when an infected person sneezes or coughs and you breathe it in, or if you have direct contact or touch a surface or object that had flu virus on it and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes.
Prevention measures will be familiar as they are essentially the same as for COVID-19. Wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose when in a public place, wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, avoid crowds, stay home if you are sick, and cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze.
Care for children with cold and flu symptoms
Keep your child hydrated to reduce cold and flu symptoms and help them feel better. Fevers can result in dehydration. Your child may not feel as thirsty as they normally would, and they may be uncomfortable when drinking, so it is important to encourage them to drink plenty of fluids like fresh fruit juices and water (e.g. lemon juice).
Dehydration can be very serious in babies, especially if they’re under 3 months old. Go immediately to your nearest health centre or doctor if you suspect your baby is dehydrated. Some signs may include:
- no tears when crying
- dry lips
- the soft spot in the head that seem sunken-in
- decreased activity
- urinating less than three to four times in 24 hours
If your child is breastfed, attempt to breastfeed them more frequently than usual. Your baby may be less interested in breastfeeding if they’re sick. You may have to have several short feeding sessions or express breast milk and give in a small cup in order for them to consume enough fluid.
Clear up stuffed nasal passages and loosen mucous to ease cough
Careful use of a steam source in a closed room can help to relieve a stuffed nose and soften mucous to make coughing up mucous easier.
Saline drops for the nose can also be bought at pharmacies to soften nasal mucous and facilitate its discharge
Alternatively use a small amount of Vicks rub mixed with oil over heels of feet for children >3 months old
If your child is over 1-year-old, try giving honey for a cough instead of medication. You can give 2 to 5 milliliters (mL) of honey a few times during the day.
Extra rest can help your child recover faster.
Your child may be very hot due to fever. Dress them lightly and avoid heavy blankets or excessive layers that could make them feel hotter. A mild fever does not need treatment as fever is the body’s way of fighting off an infection. A lukewarm bath can also help them cool off and wind down before taking a nap or going to sleep for the night.
Seek medical care
Sometimes even the best at-home care isn’t enough to help your little one make a full recovery. Seek medical care right away if your child:
- has a fever greater than 38°C for more than two days, or a fever of 40°C or higher for any amount of time
- has a fever of 38°C or higher and is under 3 months old
- has a fever that doesn’t get better after taking Panadol
- seems unusually drowsy or lethargic
- won’t eat or drink
- is wheezing or is short of breath
After your child recovers, there are steps you can take to prevent cold and flu in the future. Wash all surfaces they came into contact with before or during their sickness. Encourage your children and other family members to wash their hands regularly to keep germs at bay.
Teach your child not to share food, drinks, or utensils when they eat. This assists with avoiding the spread of germs between them and their friends. Keep your child out of daycare or school when they are ill, especially if they have a fever. Keep them away from others with flu-like symptoms and avoid crowds.