Chinese New Year often brings heavy human traffic as people hurry to fly to loved ones or for a short getaway. But this year, travelling will bring more than just the worries of check-in queues as China reports more deaths and infections from the rapidly-spreading Wuhan pneumonia.
The news comes smack in the middle of China’s busiest travel periods of the year, also known as the “largest annual human migration in the world”.
According to The Straits Times, the disease has reached China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and, most recently, the US. It is also confirmed to be transmissible from human-to-human, and symptoms include fever, coughing and breathing difficulties.
Even though countries have stepped up safety measures to track and contain the virus, it is important that we ourselves exercise our own caution to avoid falling sick over this period of heightened anxiety. It doesn’t help that Singapore’s flu season this year has fallen right over CNY, making it all the more important to make sure we keep ourselves in the pink of health.
This feels like a given, but sometimes it is the smallest measures that slip right by us. Everyday, our hands come into contact with people, objects and surfaces. As most viruses are airborne and can be transmissible through contact, our bodies are susceptible to bacteria entering through the touch of our hands. This makes washing your hands especially important before eating and after going to the toilet.
It’s also a good habit to practice washing your hands properly with soap and water. You may have heard from your children to sing ‘happy birthday’ twice while washing hands – and they’re not wrong! With the right steps, washing your hands for 15 to 30 seconds can effectively reduce germ counts by up to 99 per cent. It’s also a good tip to keep hand sanitizers and wipes handy to regularly clean hands.
If you’re sick, make sure to cover your mouth and nose with tissue paper when coughing or sneezing and throw away the tissue immediately – and clean your hands after!
Not to trigger the germophobe in you, but if you would just listen closely the next time you’re in your office or a shopping mall, you’re bound to hear coughing, sneezing or people clearing their throats. This season even sees an average of 3,842 patients a day visiting polyclinics for acute upper respiratory infections – a whopping 1,000 more cases higher than the median over the past five years.
You don’t have to confine yourself at home in fear of the flu bug, but do keep in mind that crowds also mean it’s more likely for you to come close to those who are sick. Many of these people may not even present symptoms or know that they’re infected. Take note of ‘hot spots’ that people touch regularly – handrails, supermarket trolleys, ATMs – and remind yourself to sanitise your hands often.
Childcare centres are potential breeding grounds for viruses due to their compact settings and shared toys and facilities, so do remind your kids to avoid putting their hands in their mouths or touching the face. Items and surfaces are routinely sanitised but it is best to exercise some caution!
Being exposed to the flu doesn’t always mean coming down with it. In fact, it’s up to your body’s immune system to fight the virus – which is why strengthening your immune system is one of, if not the most important way, to prevent yourself from falling sick.
Sticking to a healthy lifestyle can be followed through with a few basic and easily obtainable requirements. You can start out small by drinking plenty of water, with a recommended intake of over nine cups for women and 13 for men – as well as incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Then work your way towards decreasing stress levels and increasing your sleep hours – making for a holistic support system to boost your immunity! Studies have shown that people who don’t get quality sleep fall sick easier and recover slower. The optimal amount of sleep for adults is seven to eight hours.
Those who exercise often are also said to be less likely to contract viruses.
Severe flu complications can be life-threatening for certain groups of people. Thus, one of the best defences against flu viruses is getting a flu shot – which will come in handy for Singaporeans as the highly contagious illness happens year-round in our country.
According to Dr Shawn Vasoo, the acting clinical director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), a flu vaccination offers 60 to 70 per cent protection. This is for all three common strains of flu viruses in Singapore, also known as the A(H1N1), A(H3N2) and the B virus.
The flu vaccine is recommended for even the healthiest of people, and especially for children, elderly and those with a compromised immune system.
Unfortunately, the flu vaccine does not protect you from the Wuhan pneumonia, of which there is no known vaccination or cure.
Did you know that infectious flu particles can travel up to six feet (1.8m) away? And that is without coughing or sneezing, which is the virus’ main mode of spreading – through contaminated saliva droplets. The virus can also linger in the air for hours, especially in cool environments.
That said, if you know anybody who is suffering from the flu, avoid sharing food, drinks and personal items like eating utensils and towels with them. Even so, this can be tricky because “most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick,” according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you or your loved ones feel sick, minimise going out and stay home to recuperate instead – this will also help prevent the spread of the illness to others. If it’s absolutely necessary for you to head out, wear a mask!
Both cold and flu are caused by viruses, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. Some of the similar symptoms shared by both illnesses are cough, sore throat, body aches, runny nose and congestion and even vomiting – but they can be somewhat identifiable by their severity. Fever, for example, can indicate that you’re dealing with flu rather than a cold as a common cold usually carries milder symptoms.
Pneumonia, on the other hand, typically starts from early symptoms that mimic influenza. The American Lung Association states that pneumonia symptoms can vary from extremely mild (unnoticed) to severe (requiring hospitalisation) – and can depend on the type germ causing the infection, your age and overall health.
While typical symptoms include cough, chest pain, fever and breathing difficulty, someone infected with bacterial pneumonia may experience a sudden onset of high-grade fever, chills and a cough with thick, yellowish or greenish phlegm on top of the above symptoms. Those infected with viral pneumonia may instead begin with experiencing dry cough, fever, headache, body aches – and later breathlessness and cough with whitish or clear phlegm.
Stay safe, everyone!
This article was first published in The Singapore Women’s Weekly.