Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Health Reporter
THERE is a glimmer of sunshine behind the dark cloud of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has been credited with reducing common colds and flu infections from more than 350 000 last year to about around 170 000 this year in Zimbabwe.
The killer virus has infected nearly 11 million people worldwide and killed more than 500 000 people.
Covid-19 prevention measures that include regular hand washing, wearing masks, disinfecting surfaces that are often touched and generally sanitising surroundings are also very effective in preventing Flu that spreads in a way similar to the deadly virus. Both are respiratory infections and preventing one takes care of the other. Also, more people are drinking concoctions that they believe ward off Covid-19 infections and in the process, they often stay hydrated — a recommended state to reduce common colds and flu.
Lockdown measures have reduced physical interaction among people thereby reducing chances of getting either Covid-19 or flu.
In Zimbabwe, flu cases have gone down and most people are remarking that they are yet to see someone with a runny nose or hear someone coughing this year.
Memes have flooded social media commenting on the scarcity of flu cases this year.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care only 170 010 cases have been reported in Zimbabwe between April and June compared to 356 334 during the same period last year and 402 023 in 2018.
Medical experts have said flu and Covid-19 share similar methods of transmission which could explain the decrease in flue cases.
The wearing of masks and practicing of social distancing which are part of measures meant to curb the spread of Covid-19 have also resulted in sharp decline in flu cases.
Covid-19 and flu can both be spread from person to person through droplets in the air from an infected person, coughing, sneezing or talking.
Experts also say both can be spread by an infected person for several days before their symptoms appear. Flu and Covid-19 cause fever, cough, body aches, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea. The two respiratory diseases can be mild or severe, even fatal in rare cases and can eventually result in pneumonia.
Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Portia Manangazira said masks had been effective in reducing flu, although this was dependent on the level of exposure, nature of activity and how it is used.
“It is quite possible that the use of masks led to the decrease in flu cases but remember other measures are also effective against flu such as movement restrictions, social distancing and consumption of healthy foods and vitamins,” said Dr Manangazira.
She said the face masks play a role in controlling spread of contagious diseases such as flu and other respiratory diseases.
“Masks are quite effective but it also depends on the level of exposure, nature of activity and how they are used. In general people should ensure both mouth and nose are covered espcially if they suspect
they are exposed to the risk of Covid-19.”
Dr Manangazira urged members of the public to keep the masks clean by washing them daily after use. A local general practitioner Dr Barbatus Msimanga said he had also noted that flu cases were not as bad this year but he could not readily attribute it to social distancing and wearing of masks.
He said so far there are no scientific studies to prove that masks and social distancing could lead to decreased cases of flu.
Dr Msimanga said the winter season had not be that cold which could also have contributed to reduced cases. “We have noted that the strain of flu is not as bad this year even in children when compared to previous years. However, it will be premature for me to conclude that Covid-19 lockdown conditions are a contributing factor as we do not have scientific evidence yet,” said Dr Msimanga.
He, however, urged members of the public to continue complying with lockdown regulations to minimise the risk of contracting Covid-19. — @thamamoe.