Flu cases in UAE down thanks to Covid safety measures


Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy

Dubai - The incidence of several common seasonal diseases is unusually low this year.

By Nandini Sircar

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Published: Wed 16 Dec 2020, 4:54 PM

Last updated: Thu 17 Dec 2020, 11:13 AM

Aggressive precautionary measures to tame the unprecedented novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) have lessened influenza and other respiratory diseases that usually report a surge around this time of the year, according to doctors in the UAE.

Though the nation is consistently reporting over 1,000 Covid-19 cases for more than eight weeks, the incidence of several common seasonal diseases is unusually low this year.

Doctors explain responses intended to fight the Covid-19 pandemic such as wearing a mask, adhering to social distancing norms, working and studying from home have had a significant impact on other common respiratory illnesses.

Dr Jimmy Joseph, Specialist Internal Medicine and Diabetologist at Aster Speciality Medical Centre at International City in Dubai, said, “Lockdown and physical distancing measures have helped reduce the incidence of flu, common cold, bronchitis and a host of viruses barring Covid-19. Social distancing, facial masks, hand washing and increased personal hygiene appear to have led to prevention of respiratory viral outbreak.”

“Besides, there has been an increased awareness among people about the influenza vaccine. There has also been a significant uptick in the number of individuals who have opted for the flu vaccine this year”, he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates there are up to five million severe illnesses and another 500,000 deaths linked annually to seasonal influenza globally. However, so far, the flu cases have dipped by 1/10th of the regulation figure.

Dr Sarla Kumari, Specialist Physician and Diabetologist at Canadian Specialist Hospital at Abu Hail in Dubai, said, “We had six-seven patients suffering from influenza around this time last year, but the corresponding figure this week is only around three.”

Dr Jyoti Upadhyay, Specialist in Internal Medicine at Aster Hospital at Mankhool in Dubai, agreed with the discerning trend.

“We need to continue wearing masks till the majority of the population gets vaccinated against Covid-19. Similarly, the annual influenza vaccination is the primary method of preventing flu among those who are at high risk because of the viral outbreak,” she said.

Pandemic-response measures may have led to a dip in influenza cases, but that doesn’t tell the entire tale.

Dr Adel Mohamed Yasin Alsisi, Chief Medical Officer and Consultant Intensive care at Prime Hospital at Al Garhoud in Dubai, said, “Influenza cases have been less this year, as compared to 2019 because of wearing of mask. Masks act as a preventive measure to reduce exposure and, as a result, curbs any viral transmission.”

He added, “However, there’s a catch. The statistics for Covid-19 are updated daily internationally. But we only receive annual data for influenza cases.”

Paediatric wards in the UAE are also reporting lower numbers of influenza cases following widespread measures to reduce community mitigation of Covid-19.

Dr. Mamata Bothra, Specialist Paediatrician at Medeor Hospital at Al Falah Street in Abu Dhabi, weighed in on the trend.

“Influenza cases have dipped appreciably this year among paediatric patients across the globe because of social distancing, health awareness, and widespread use of masks. Both outpatient department (OPD) visits and inpatient admissions for paediatric cases with influenza have decreased significantly this year, as compared to 2019. People suffering from respiratory sickness are advised to wear masks. Also, people suffering from common cold, cough and flu-like symptoms should mandatorily wear masks in a bid to avoid transmission to other persons,” she added.


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