The “ber” months signal the flu season, and a lot of individuals have been catching an influenza-like illness (ILI) over the past few weeks.
The Department of Health (DOH) reported a total of 151,371 ILI cases between Oct. 9 and 13. This represents a 45% increase in cases during the same time last year.
In a statement on Oct. 18, the DOH said the higher number of ILI cases in 2023 “is observed in most diseases under surveillance, which could be attributed to the efforts to strengthen surveillance for other diseases as we shift our focus from COVID-19.”
While spending time with family and friends is something we're looking forward to this season, we must first make sure we're healthy. You don't want to spend the holidays sneezing, do you?
Flu vs. COVID-19
The flu and COVID-19 have many similar signs and symptoms—and affect the nose, throat, and/or lungs—but they’re caused by different viruses.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said COVID-19 spreads more easily than flu and can cause more severe illness in some people. The best course of action would be to undergo specific testing to confirm a diagnosis.
In an April infographic which it reposted on Oct. 26, the DOH, citing the World Health Organization (WHO), says ILI causes fever above 38C and lasts for 10 days.
Other symptoms include sore throat, cold, (dry) cough, headache, chills, body ache, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea.
ILI is transmitted via droplets of infected individuals and touching of contaminated objects then one’s mouth, nose, and eyes.
Individuals with ILI are most likely to spread it to others in the first three to four days, even without symptoms.
Those with preexisting illnesses, especially respiratory diseases like asthma, are at further risk for worse ILI symptoms.
Dr. Tony Leachon, an independent health reform advocate, told PhilSTAR L!fe that ILI is common as December approaches.
The increase in mobility and travel of people, the laxity in wearing face masks, and the lack of hygienic measures are also likely factors.
Dr. Mark Pasayan, a medical specialist at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, also told L!fe the lower vaccination coverage for flu could’ve led to the increased cases, as there has been more focus on COVID-19. The rise in ILI cases can also be attributed to waning immunity against flu.
More people getting tested for flu also simply meant increased reporting of the disease, Pasayan added.
Treatment and prevention
The DOH says those with ILI symptoms must do the following:
- Stay at home and avoid physical interaction.
- Avoid high-risk individuals like those aged 65 and up, those with comorbidities, pregnant women, and children aged 4 and below.
- Take medicine like paracetamol.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink plenty of water and eat healthy food.
Professional help must also be sought immediately if there are difficulties in breathing, body temperature exceeds 40C, or if there are comorbidities.
One may avoid catching ILI, the DOH says, by:
- Getting vaccinated against the flu
- Avoiding crowded places
- Wearing face masks, especially outdoors
- Covering the mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing
- Ensuring enough airflow and ventilation
- Sanitizing hands frequently
Leachon said most people will recover from flu on their own within a week without medical attention.
But those with mild to severe symptoms and high-risk individuals, he stressed, must be given enough medical care as it can worsen symptoms of other chronic diseases, leading to pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs’ air sacs which becomes filled with pus or fluid), sepsis (unusually severe response to infection), and even death.
According to the WHO, there are at least a billion cases of seasonal flu annually worldwide, with up to five million of the cases being severe. Of these severe cases, at least 290,000 cases lead to death.
Leacgon also suggested getting pneumonia vaccines on top of flu vaccines to boost overall immunity, especially with the holidays fast approaching.
Flu vaccines must be taken annually, too, according to Passion.
The increased ILI cases are expected to last until early January 2024, according to Philippine College of Physicians President Rontgene Solante.