The national health authorities are warning of mutation of the influenza virus. Half of the already vaccinated citizens are not protected as one of the major viral strains, namely Α (Η3Ν2) contained in the vaccine has undergone mutation and it cannot be neutralized. The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) has notified the Hellenic Centre for Control and Prevention of Infectious Diseases of the mutation and the Greek experts on infectious diseases are in a state of high alert.
They are urging citizens not to avoid vaccination, as the flu vaccine is still able to counteract flu virus types Α (Η1Ν1) and Β, recommending at the same time that the vulnerable groups of population avoid being exposed to the virus and citizens in general avoid spreading it, if they have found out that they are ill. As director of the Centre Theodoros Papadimitriou stated, “Unfortunately, a large number of those who are ill are going to work, thus spreading the virus among their colleagues.”
The situation is not favourable in general. By the end of 2014, the laboratory isolated influenza strains in Greece confirmed the controversial strain Α (Η3Ν2) although the famous pandemic virus Α (Η1Ν1) had been recently dominant internationally and in Greece where four serious flu cases have been already registered, two of which with a fatal outcome.
The Hellenic Medical Association has also alerted about the danger of flu. Referring to ECDC epidemiological data, the leadership of the Medical Association states that flu cases have increased by 10% compared to previous weeks.
According to the European system for monitoring the sick rate, the flu sick rate in European countries has increased from 9% to 13% within just one week. In Greece, the rate is over 10%, i.e. one in ten patients visiting a doctor’s office has flu-like symptoms.
ECDC experts stress the risks due to one strain of influenza virus, which is not even included in the vaccine, namely the virus Α (Η5Ν1) that is fatal in 60% of cases and that sporadically occurs mainly in Africa and Asia.
So far, there have been no confirmed cases of the disease in Greece. The Hellenic Medical Association has emphasized the need for a lot of attention, as there is no monitoring and control over the infectious diseases that the illegal immigrants continuously arriving in Greece from these countries may carry.
The Association is calling on all doctors and health institutions to be on the alert. Experts believe that the flu vaccine is very important for the vulnerable groups of population, reminding that the vaccine takes three weeks to ensure full protection.
Transmission, prevention and periods of exacerbation
The epidemiologists from the Hellenic Centre for Control and Prevention of Infectious Diseases have also noted the increased incidence of flu in Greece. The continuous monitoring of the disease shows that its activity increases in January, reaching its peak in February and March. Last year, the epidemic wave started a little earlier (on 25 December) and peaked in early March.
Flu transmits when a sick person sneezes, coughs or talks, spreading the virus in the air in the form of very small, invisible droplets. Influenza viruses are transmitted also by touch when people touch contaminated objects or surfaces with hands and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
Factors such as cold weather and the gathering of many people in closed spaces contribute towards the virus transmission. To avoid the transmission of the virus one should cover one’s mouth and nose with a handkerchief when coughing or sneezing, and wash hands often.
Influenza symptoms usually start suddenly and include fever, aching muscles and joints, headache, fatigue, running nose, sore throat, cough (usually dry). Children may have symptoms of gastroenteritis such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, whereas these symptoms are rare in adults.
Virus strains that slightly differ from the flu strains of the previous period circulate in each flu period, which is why the vaccine composition changes every year. However even when the vaccine composition is the same as in the previous period, vaccination must be repeated, as immunity weakens after 6 months.