Remain on Guard Despite Recent Decrease in COVID-19 Cases

Seasonal influenza, which has been quiet during the COVID-19 pandemic, has begun to spread for the first time in three years. Once again, vigilance must be ensured so that people do not let their guard down against flu infections.

The number of influenza patients has been gradually increasing since the outbreak started in late December. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has called for caution, announcing that the status of infections has reached the “advisory level.”

The increase in the number of patients is noticeable in such regions as Hokuriku, Kinki and Kyushu. It has already reached the “warning level” in Fukui, Ishikawa and Okinawa prefectures.

Due mainly to measures taken to prevent infections with the novel coronavirus, there has been no influenza outbreak since 2020. This is seen to have led to an increase in the number of people who have not gained immunity to influenza, and the easing of restrictions on social activities and border control measures has increased the flow of people, leading to this winter’s outbreak.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have made people less concerned about influenza, and some may not have taken measures such as getting flu shots. The number of people infected with the novel coronavirus has been declining recently. It would be worrisome if this has led to a drop in the number of people being cautious about influenza.

Influenza infections cause such symptoms as a fever of 38 C or higher, headache, fatigue and muscle aches in addition to coughing, runny nose and sore throat.

Symptoms are similar to those of the common cold, but more severe. The disease should not be underestimated. In some years, as many as 10,000 people die from seasonal influenza, including those who die as a result of worsening conditions from chronic diseases exacerbated by the infection, according to estimates.

The elderly, in particular, are at risk of becoming seriously ill, as many of them have chronic diseases. Caution is also required for small children because they are at risk of developing acute encephalopathy from influenza.

While vaccination cannot completely prevent infection and the onset of symptoms, it is believed to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. People who are not vaccinated are advised to consider getting flu shots in the future.

It is crucial for each individual to take basic infection control measures. Wearing masks, washing hands frequently and ventilating and humidifying rooms are effective preventive measures, in addition to avoiding crowded situations as much as possible.

The government will ease infection control measures for COVID-19 from March 13, leaving the wearing of masks to individual judgment, in principle. If the influenza outbreak is likely to continue, continuing to wear masks would be an option.

In order to prevent the spread of influenza infections, superiors at workplaces must give consideration to those who do not feel well so that such workers can take time off as soon as possible.

School class closures are also increasing rapidly. This is an important time for students preparing for entrance examinations, so precautions must be taken at home and at school.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 21, 2023)