Sat, 04 Jan 2003

Flu sets in with the coming wet season

Maria Endah Hulupi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

At this time of the year, with rain pouring almost every day, influenza is a common disease.

Some people catch influenza several times a year. At the workplace, it's ordinary to see that once a colleague suffers from the disease, soon the others would catch it too. And since it happens many times, even sufferers take this ailment lightly, thinking that it will only lead to a runny nose, sneezing, coughing and headaches.


According to Iskandar, an internist at Mitra Keluarga Kelapa Gading hospital in North Jakarta, influenza or flu can pose a serious health threat, especially among the elderly and babies.

He explained that influenza is caused by influenza virus and in Indonesia, epidemic cases are caused by influenza virus type A.

"Flu is a contagious disease that can spread when a person with flu coughs, sneezes or just speaks. By coughing or sneezing, he or she sprays the virus into the air, exposing others to it. The spread is hard to control, especially in crowded rooms with poor ventilation," Iskandar said.

The disease, he said, affects the respiratory tract, namely the nose, throat and lungs, where the viruses replicate and trigger symptoms like fever, fatigue, runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat and muscle aches.

The symptoms will show within two to seven days, but since the virus is self-limiting in nature, the sufferer will recover afterward.

"People of different age groups can get infected but special attention should be given to the elderly, 60 years old or older, and immuno-compromised patients (those with an impaired immune system) because their weakened immune system can expose them to serious complications, like pneumonia," Iskandar said.

Apart from pneumonia, the U.S. National Center for Infectious Disease said in its website ( that flu can cause dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions like congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes. It also can lead to sinus problems and ear infections for children.

Actually, Iskandar said, the infection would trigger the human body to develop a defense mechanism against contracting the same virus but as the influenza virus constantly changed, the body could not protect itself from the new influenza strains and this was the reason why people could get infected more than once a year.

To speed up recovery, sufferers are advised to drink plenty of water, take a rest at home, eat a balanced diet and take medication to relieve the symptoms.

For the treatment, getting a flu shot, made from inactivated flu virus, is effective protection but it is not common in the country.

The elderly, babies and people with an impaired immune system need to consult with their physicians, while for others, over-the-counter drugs can help ease the severity of the symptoms and shorten the duration. "But if there is no sign of improvements after several days, sufferers need to consult a doctor as it can get worse or the symptoms may be triggered by other causes," Iskandar said.

Consuming hot drinks and hot soups, which many believe will help relieve the symptoms, helps clear out the respiratory tract and this makes the sufferer feel better. The same explanation goes for a hot-air bath (covering the face over a basin of hot water with a towel to capture the steam).

"People can catch flu when they're stamina is low; the symptoms get worse during the wet season," Iskandar said, adding that taking vitamin C could also help.

And to prevent others, especially the elderly and babies from catching the disease, flu sufferers need to cover their nose and mouth with a mask and avoid sharing utensils.

Taking a good rest at home is important for recovery and at the same time, spares others, like workplace colleagues, from catching the illness.