Hygiene, social distancing leads to plummeting flu rates: Health experts

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Doctors in the UAE said the number of people suffering from seasonal flu has plummeted this year due to increased hygiene and health safety practices to limit the spread of COVID-19.

While December, January and February is normally the peak of influenza-like symptoms being reported among patients, health experts say the cases have fallen dramatically this year.

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Dr Pankaj Tardeja, head of department and a specialist pediatrician at NMC Specialty Hospital, Al Ain, is among the health experts who have witnessed a fall in patients suffering with seasonal flu.

He said – given the flu and COVID-19 are similar in its nature; given they are both spread by human-to-human transmission – often by respiratory droplets – as people take steps to limit the chance of contracting coronavirus, cases of flu have fallen.

“Public health measures such as proper hand hygiene, good respiratory etiquette (coughing into your elbow or into a tissue and immediately disposing tissue), mask usage, social distancing, staying indoor have limited the spread of viruses - including the flu virus,” he told Al Arabiya English.

“Additionally precautionary measures taken at schools, nurseries, day care centers and community centers for COVID-19 has in return curbed the spread of seasonal flu.”

UAE-wide campaigns to encourage the general public in taking the influenza vaccine has also helped curb the number of flu cases, he said.

“Als, the pandemic has cultivated better and nutritious eating habits that has again helped in building immunity against multiple diseases.”

The doctor said, ultimately, the pandemic has caused better health practices among the community.

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Dr Siddeg Fadul, a specialist in family medicine at Bareen International Hospital, agrees.

“In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, many countries have implemented protective strategies such as social distancing , hand sanitizer, face masks, quarantines, and schools and public places closures.”

“Many countries around the world reported decreasing numbers of COVID-19 cases after these precautions – but preventions in place have also led to reports of other decreasing virus activity.”

“Our new habits of hand hygiene and social distancing to limit the impact of COVID-19 have the potential to reduce yearly flu transmission. This can help prevent any further strain on our already stretched healthcare system."

A nurse prepares an injection of the influenza vaccine. (File photo: Reuters)
A nurse prepares an injection of the influenza vaccine. (File photo: Reuters)

Dr Rasha Alani, a specialist in family medicine at Medcare Medical center, in Al Khawaneej, said up to half-a-million people were estimated to have died during the first year influenza was discovered.

“With the availability of the treatment these numbers started to reduce. Now, compared to cases as last year, there is decline in the curve of this kind of infection.”

Rules, such as wearing face masks and hand hygiene, have led to “good protection in our community to stop viral transmission”, said the doctor, who has reported zero cases of influenza this year.

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