Grafton GP Super Clinic doctor Dr Mark Bell
Grafton GP Super Clinic doctor Dr Mark Bell

Hygiene keeps the flu away, but not for long

THE message of good hygiene and social distance appears to have worked as local and national figures show a dramatic drop in the influenza rate over the past months.

However, a local doctor has said that as restrictions eased, so has our attitude to hygiene, and warned of a return to the typical figures.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic taking hold, in the first two months of 2020, Australia was on track to have a worse start to the year for flu infections than the record-breaking 2019 season.

However, flu cases nearly halved in March, and across the nation dropped by 98 per cent year-on-year in April, with just 307 laboratory-confirmed cases were recorded, compared to 18,691 for April 2019.

Dr Kerry Hancock, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Respiratory Medicine network, told publication newsGP she was “incredibly surprised” by the results and described the fall in cases as ‘dramatic’.

“We see now in the influenza statistics the impact that [good hygiene and social distancing] can have in reducing transmission,” she said.

“It just tells us the value of physically distancing, good hand hygiene, avoiding mass gatherings (when sick), cough etiquette and being aware of all those other strategies to avoid the transmission of infectious diseases.”

Locally the figures show a similar trend, with just three confirmed cases of influenza in the Northern NSW Local Health District, recorded this April, a fall from 145 cases in April 2019.

These results line up with earlier reports from the health district of a sharp fall in the presentation of gastric diseases since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“While we can’t categorically put this down to the increased hand hygiene measures the community is taking, it’s encouraging that we’re seeing fewer presentations of this nature at the moment,” director Clinical Operations at the Northern NSW Local Health District, Lynne Weir said.

Grafton GP Superclinic Doctor Mark Bell said that the influenza statistics had been reflected not only in their practice, but across the board of general practice. He said this was evidence of the success of social distancing and other measures such as an increase in proper hand hygiene

RELATED: Hand hygiene helps says local hospital.

However, Dr Bell noted they were beginning to see an increase in upper respiratory tract infections in their patients now as the community began to relax regarding previously stringent precautions to prevent viral transmissions.

“Our community is beginning to very much relax in regard to social isolation measures but their importance at this time can be evidenced in the marked decrease in influenza cases comparing the stats for this year compared to last year,” he said.

“The fact that we have a regimen where we are currently testing all different kinds of Upper Respiratory viruses in combination with COVID-19 testing has shown how easily transmittable all respiratory viruses are and the need for ongoing hygiene measures.”

The current recommendation by NSW Health is for all people showing symptoms, including a cough, sore/scratchy throat, shortness of breath should get tested at a COVID-19 testing clinic.

Clinics are available at Grafton Base Hospital, or Yamba Respiratory Clinic.

People are advised to self-isolate while waiting for a result.

For any further information, call the National coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080.

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