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April to September defined as flu season in Bangladesh

Today scientists from the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) and icddr,b jointly organised a dissemination seminar titled “Influenza Surveillance in Bangladesh” in the IEDCR Auditorium in Mohakhali. Findings from a nationwide influenza surveillance were presented during the seminar. This surveillance has been collaboratively conducted since 2007 in different tertiary and district hospitals across Bangladesh by these two organisations.

With technical support from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the surveillance is currently being conducted in 19 hospitals around the country. It aims to understand the burden, seasonal patterns, and circulating strains of the Influenza virus among patients who seek hospital care with complaints of short-term fever and cough (for 10 days or less).

The surveillance finding has shown that influenza circulation is observed throughout the year, however high detection of flu occurrence between April and September, thus the scientists have defined this period as the flu season in Bangladesh. Scientists recommend that in Bangladesh, the Influenza vaccine commonly known as the flu shot, should be taken between February to March of every year to ensure maximum protection from the Influenza virus. Additionally, priority for receiving the influenza vaccine should be given to elderly individuals, healthcare professionals and patients with chronic diseases.

Dr. Fahmida Chowdhury, Associate Scientist at icddr,b, provided an overview of the global influenza landscape. She said, “Worldwide, the flu kills between 290,000 and 650,000 people annually. Globally, different developed and developing countries conducts influenza vaccination campaigns ahead of their flu seasons.” She also emphasised the global variation in influenza seasonal patterns and the proper timing of flu vaccination in various regions of the world.

Dr. Tahmina Shirin, Director of IEDCR and the National Influenza Center presented the surveillance findings. Out of 115000 patients who sought hospital care with short-term fever and cough, around 11% were infected with influenza. One per cent of hospitalised influenza-positive patients died during their hospital stay. However, adults over 60 and patients with chronic illnesses had a three times higher death risk.

Prof. Dr. Meerjady Sabrina Flora, Additional Director General, DGHS, highlighted the pandemic potential of influenza in her speech as the chief guest and emphasised avoiding the irrational use of antibiotics. "For influenza-like symptoms, antibiotics should be taken only after being recommended by a doctor. Apart from this, maintaining the habit of handwashing, wearing masks, and practicing cough etiquette throughout the year not only prevent respiratory illnesses like influenza but also protect us from other diseases," she said.

icddr,b Executive Director, Dr. Tahmeed Ahmed, was present as the special guest. He highlighted the importance of influenza surveillance in Bangladesh in informing global public health policies. He said " Between 2008 and 2010, icddr,b scientist Dr K  Zaman, in a study found that if pregnant women were given influenza vaccine, it reduced illness by 63 percent in infants under six months and reduced respiratory infections among children as well as in mothers.  Based on these findings WHO recommends maternal immunisation during pregnancy with flu vaccine.”

Dr. ASM Alamgir, Infectious Hazard Management officer, WHO, Dr. Gretchen Cowman, Epidemiologist, US-CDC, and Professor Dr. Mahmudur Rahman, Global Health Development (GHD) representative in Bangladesh, Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network (EMPHNET) were also present as special guests among others. Officials from the Directorate General Health Services, renowned physicians, representatives of the pharmaceutical companies and media personnel attended the seminar.