Thoroughly prepare for spread of coronavirus, seasonal flu

There are fears that an eighth wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic could coincide with an outbreak of seasonal flu. To avoid mishaps, there is a need to thoroughly prepare vaccinations, medical treatment and drug supplies, among other measures.

The government has announced countermeasures for a possible simultaneous outbreak. People with symptoms who are at low risk of severe illness — from junior high school-age children to people age 64 — will be expected to use a COVID-19 test kit at home. If the result is negative, they will be advised to undergo a telephone or online medical checkup for influenza.

A system is envisioned whereby medicine will be delivered from pharmacies to the homes of people diagnosed with flu. The facilities that treat outpatients who have a fever will focus on people at high risk of serious illness, such as children and the elderly.

During the seventh wave of the pandemic, such outpatient fever clinics were flooded with patients. It is not hard to understand why the government aims to prioritize certain routes for medical treatment services according to the risk of serious illness. But in years when influenza case numbers have been high, thousands have died.

Flu medication must be taken within 48 hours of the onset of illness to be fully effective. Online medical care and medication deliveries can be time-consuming, raising the possibility that patients will miss the window of opportunity to take the medication.

A system that allows people in need to receive treatment at medical institutions should be maintained. A situation in which a patient forced to recuperate at home dies must not be allowed to happen.

The government must provide easy-to-understand explanations of the procedures to be followed by people who develop a fever. It is also important to establish a system that allows patients who are concerned about how to handle the situation to freely ask for advice on the phone.

In the first place, less than 20% of medical institutions nationwide are able to offer online medical care services. Also, many people are not used to making use of such services. Medical institutions that do not treat COVID-19 patients should actively participate in the provision of influenza treatment and increase the capacity for face-to-face medical care services.

During the sixth and seventh waves, supplies of test kits were disrupted and common antipyretics were in short supply. Without test kits or medication, people have no choice but to continue to anxiously recuperate at home.

The government needs to ensure that sufficient quantities of test kits and medication are available and patients can receive deliveries promptly. There is also a test kit that can check for the coronavirus and influenza simultaneously, but for now, it is only available at medical institutions. It would be more effective if it could be purchased at pharmacies.

It is important not to exacerbate the situation in the event of simultaneous outbreaks of the coronavirus and influenza. To that end, the government needs to push ahead with vaccinations against both diseases.

There are now two types of coronavirus vaccines that can target the ongoing omicron variant. They also can be administered at the same time as the flu vaccine. With the relaxation of pandemic-related border control measures and an easing of restrictions on social activities, there are more opportunities for individuals to come into contact with others. It is hoped that people will be sufficiently prepared as winter approaches.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 21, 2022)