InfluenzaThe holiday season is here and people need to remember that it is also the flu season. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control estimates that, every year, influenza affects 5 percent to 10 percent of adults and 20 percent to 30 percent of children globally and causes about 3,000 and 49,000 deaths in the United States During National Influenza Vaccination Week held from December 7 to December 13, 2014 public health authorities in the US collaborate to spread the word about the importance of flu vaccination.

There are different types such as A & B and subtypes of influenza that circulate and cause illness. Flu viruses constantly change and new viruses may appear every year. A sudden, major change in the influenza A viruses can result in a very severe flu epidemic such as the H1N1 influenza pandemic which occurred in 2009.

Associated respiratory tract infections (RTIs) are usually caused by the influenza virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared lower RTIs as the third biggest killer globally after heart disease and stroke. Upper respiratory tract conditions are typically seen among younger children and cause acute asthma exacerbations and infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

The main problem with infectious diseases such as RTIs is that they can be complex with underlying associated infections which may be missed or overlooked after the initial diagnosis is made. This can worsen the patient’s condition and cause many serious complications. RTIs may also have symptoms that are similar to influenza, leading to difficulties in diagnosis.

A report in Medical Laboratory Observer points out that molecular diagnostic testing can help resolve this challenge. According to the author, molecular laboratory testing can identify causal infection as well as underlying secondary or co-infections, allowing physicians to provide comprehensive diagnoses and improving understanding of RTIs in individual patients. The advantages of highly sensitive and specific molecular assays such as ELISA for the identification of respiratory pathogens are as follows:

  • Provide a quicker and more specific and sensitive approach compared to culture tests
  • Enable optimal treatment of individual patients with appropriate therapeutics administered in a timely manner
  • Reduce the need for hospitalization and avoids long and costly recovery times
  • Help health authorities to understand how the viruses are spreading and responding to current treatment

Molecular assays allow the laboratory performing the test to provide accurate and quick results, saving time and costs. Only a proper understanding of the exact nature and cause of disease can ensure optimum clinical management and help in accurate monitoring and surveillance of respiratory pathogens during the flu season.