Protective Measures Against Viral Respiratory Infections: A Conversation with Dr. Jameela Al- Salman
In recent years, respiratory infections have escalated into a pressing public health concern. Yet, there remains a critical need to raise awareness about what puts you at high risk for these conditions. For example, did you know that diabetes compromises your immune system? This is particularly significant for the Kingdom of Bahrain, which is considered one of the countries most affected by diabetes, with an incidence of 14.7% of the adult population. If you’re diabetic, it’s important to understand your own risk for severe illness.
To understand the factors that put you at high risk for viral respiratory infections in collaboration with Pfizer, we spoke to Dr. Jameela Al-Salman, senior consultant in infectious diseases at the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Bahrain. She shared about the importance of public education and proactive strategies to minimize the impact of viral respiratory infections.
As a senior consultant in infectious diseases with a deep understanding of respiratory infections, and considering the ongoing impact of COVID-19, what insights can you provide about the current state of public awareness regarding viral respiratory infections and the importance for proactive measures to combat their effects?
Respiratory infections, such as the common cold, influenza, and COVID-19, are always a topic of public concern, as they can be unpredictable and spread quickly. We are seeing growing awareness about risk factors and protective measures, and we need to continue highlighting the need to be vigilant against viral infections and community transmissions as we collectively work towards healthier societies.
Age, underlying medical conditions, and a weakened immune system are identified as risk factors for viral infections. To combat viral respiratory infections, public education on protective and proactive measures is essential. By educating the public about these factors and promoting proactive measures like wearing masks, vaccination, and proper hygiene, we can collectively work towards minimizing the impact of respiratory infections on our communities.
You mention the importance of educating the public, so what are the key underlying medical conditions and factors that contribute to the risk of experiencing viral respiratory infections? And how can this knowledge be used to enhance public health initiatives and prevention strategies?
Globally, around 40 per cent of adults have at least one risk factor that puts them at high risk of becoming very ill from a respiratory infection. 1 Unfortunately, many people with high-risk factors are unaware of the severity of illness or hospitalization if they fall sick. 2 Underlying medical conditions, such as chronic lung diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and immunocompromised conditions can increase your level of risk for respiratory illnesses.
Age too is an important factor to consider when it comes to the risk of severe illness. Compared to younger people, the risk of dying from COVID-19 for example is approximately 60 times higher if you’re 65-74 years old. 2 A compromised immune system due to treatment can also increase the risk of respiratory diseases. Immunosuppressive drugs used in organ transplantation or chemotherapy for cancer make the body less effective in recognizing and eliminating pathogens, making the patient more susceptible to respiratory infections.
Having even one high-risk factor can cause mild symptoms from respiratory diseases to quickly become severe. That is why it is important for individuals with high risk factors to work closely with their healthcare providers to come up with an action plan to avoid severe illness.
What are some of these symptoms of respiratory infections?
There are various symptoms of respiratory infections that people should be aware of such as cough, sore throat, fever, shortness of breath, fatigue, body ache, and chest congestion. The symptoms can vary in severity and can overlap with symptoms of other respiratory illnesses and non-respiratory conditions. If you experience these symptoms, do not wait for them to worsen, and consult a doctor immediately.
How can patients determine if they are at high risk for severe illness associated with respiratory infections?
Everyone should have regular checkups so that they are aware of their health condition and are able to educate themselves about high-risk factors for severe illness associated with respiratory infections. Patients who are diagnosed as high-risk should have an honest discussion with their doctor, book regular evaluations for their specific conditions and come up with a personalized plan to prevent severe illness and steps that can be taken if they begin to experience symptoms. I encourage high-risk patients to use the risk assessment tools and resources offered by several health agencies to determine your risk profile.
Why is the development of a personalized plan important for high-risk patients, and how does such a plan contribute to combatting the impact of respiratory illnesses?
Being proactive before symptoms strike from respiratory conditions is one of the most important steps a patient can take to help prevent severe illness. This begins with knowing your risk and making a personalized plan to protect you and those around you. Creating a personalized plan that considers a patient’s medical history and risk factors ensures targeted guidance, support and tailored intervention and treatment for the best outcome.
What are the key components that should be included in a personalized plan for action during viral infections, and how do these components contribute to effective prevention?
A plan for swift action for a viral infection, such as COVID-19, should involve your doctor’s guidance, as well as contact information, emergency contact details, any medication that you are taking and relevant medical history. Plan for getting in touch with anyone you were in contact with that may be at risk of infection and familiarize yourself with health and isolation protocols. Have face masks and sanitization products on hand to prevent family and community transmission. Involve your family and friends in the planning process so that everyone knows what steps to take if anyone is experiencing symptoms too. Understand the signs of worsening symptoms and plan to monitor your condition. This will help ensure timely medical care and support, reducing the risk of severe illness and complications.
What are some proactive measures that individuals can take to effectively reduce the risk of severe illness from respiratory infections?
Taking proactive steps is important to reduce the risk of severe illness from respiratory infections and aiding the overall prevention efforts within your community. Vaccinations play a crucial role in reducing the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and complications associated with respiratory infections. I encourage people to stay up-to-date with vaccinations recommended by health authorities. Everyone should always practice good hand hygiene, especially in public spaces, touching surfaces or before eating. If you are experiencing symptoms, wearing a mask can reduce the risk of infection transmission. Keep a safe distance from others who show signs of illness and avoidcrowded places if you are at a high risk of respiratory infection. Continue to stay informed on respiratory infection prevention guidelines that are put out by reputable sources, such as public health authorities and healthcare professionals. Family support and understanding are important in promoting physical and mental wellbeing.
How does involving and educating family members contribute to the prevention of severe respiratory illnesses?
Your family’s understanding of your personalized plan to prevent severe illness can help create a more health-conscious environment and also keep any stress that you may have about your risk factors at bay. Involve them in the development of the plan and encourage them to familiarize themselves with all the medical details. If a patient’s family is prepared, they too can act quickly on the plan to help prevent severe illness and hospitalization. Upon testing positive for a respiratory infection, what are the essential first steps that a patient
should follow to manage their condition effectively? Patients who test positive should self-isolate immediately to prevent further transmission of the infection and keep monitoring their symptoms. They must also inform anyone they were in close contact with about their result so that they too can take necessary precautions and get tested. Patients must then inform their doctor and follow their guidance regarding symptoms, further evaluation and treatment options if necessary.
What are the treatment options available for patients who test positive for respiratory infections, especially when seeking to prevent the progression into severe illness?
A patient’s plan to deal with their illness due to a respiratory infection and their treatment plan needs to be personalized and depends on the specific infection, severity of symptoms and medical history. Their doctor should be their first call to find out what is the best course of action to ensure they gets the right attention and treatment for their condition.
Some potential treatment options that are proposed to patients based on the severity of their symptoms include antiviral medications, anti-inflammatory medications and oxygen therapy. If symptoms are not severe and do not seem to be worsening, patients may be asked to take supportive care measures, focusing on managing symptoms, maintaining hydration and ensuring adequate rest and nutrition.