Although the summer is approaching and temperatures begin to rise, the flu season is still here, and many people have started experiencing symptoms of the influenza virus. This year, the H3N2 strain is one of the most prevalent types of influenza circulating in the community. However, instead of seeking medical advice and getting tested for the virus, many individuals turn to self-medication, which can lead to more harm than good.
Self-medication, which refers to using over-the-counter (OTC) drugs without consulting a healthcare professional, has become a common practice in our society. Although OTC drugs can alleviate symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, they do not target the root cause of the illness. Moreover, self-medication can lead to inappropriate dosing, adverse reactions, and interactions with other drugs, especially in people with underlying medical conditions.
Dr. Sohini Sen Gupta, Medical Laboratory Director & HOD with Redcliffe Labs, stresses the importance of getting tested for H3N2 influenza instead of relying on self-medication. She says testing is the only way to diagnose the virus and accurately determine the appropriate treatment plan. In this article, we will explore the benefits of testing and the risks associated with self-medication.
Benefits of Testing for H3N2 Influenza
Testing for H3N2 influenza involves taking a sample of the patient’s respiratory secretions, such as a nasal or throat swab, and sending it to a laboratory for analysis. The results can be available within a few hours, and the test can accurately diagnose the virus with high specificity and sensitivity.
One of the main advantages of testing is that it helps healthcare professionals determine the appropriate treatment plan for the patient. Antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir and zanamivir are effective in treating H3N2 influenza if administered within 48 hours of symptom onset. However, these drugs may not be effective against other strains of influenza, and their use can lead to the development of drug-resistant viruses.
Moreover, testing can help identify individuals at high risk of complications from influenza, such as young children, pregnant women, and the elderly. These individuals may require hospitalisation or more aggressive treatment, and early diagnosis can prevent the progression of the illness.
Risks of Self-Medication
Self-medication, on the other hand, poses several risks to individuals who use it to treat H3N2 influenza. Firstly, OTC drugs do not target the root cause of the illness, and their use can mask the symptoms, leading to a delay in diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Moreover, OTC drugs can cause adverse reactions and interactions with other medications, especially in individuals with underlying medical conditions.
For example, acetaminophen, commonly used to reduce fever and relieve pain, can cause liver damage if taken in high doses or combined with alcohol. Similarly, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin can cause stomach ulcers, bleeding, and kidney damage if used for a prolonged period or in high doses.
Furthermore, self-medication can lead to the development of drug-resistant viruses, as the inappropriate use of antiviral drugs can contribute to the emergence of resistant strains. This can have profound public health implications, as the spread of drug-resistant viruses can make it difficult to control outbreaks and pandemics.