Flu cases this winter season are up by at least 70 percent compared to last year as Covid-19-related precautions have gone down, according to an expert.
Earlier this year, the UAE eased coronavirus restrictions, almost two and half years after the pandemic began, as the number of cases dropped in the Gulf country. However, influenza or common cold cases have spiked massively since the onset of the winter season in September.
Dr Mohammed AlJeaidi, a specialist in family medicine at Medcare, says that since September the hospital has seen an increase in the number of flu cases with classic symptoms of a runny nose, sore throat, cough and high fever that lasts for up to three weeks.
“The reasons for this increase could be multiple factors including the full opening of schools, end of Covid-related precautions, including social distancing, and lesser focus on hand hygiene,” explains Dr AlJeaidi.
Lama Nammour, a Dubai-based homemaker, says that her entire household, including her two children aged nine and 11, fell ill last month.
“I had severe body ache due to high fever and a sore throat, which still doesn’t seem to heal,” she explains. “The flu hit us badly this year and it seems to be prolonged.”
At the start of the winter season this year, health officials from the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) urged all residents to take the flu vaccine as part of its National Seasonal Flu Awareness campaign that runs until the end of December.
“The reason why flu cases were low last year was because of awareness and regular use of masks and proper hand hygiene,” said Dr Farida Al Hosani, executive director of Infection Diseases Sector in Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre.
Until the current influenza season, the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) never expressed a preference for any of the available influenza vaccines for adults. However, in the CDC’s guidelines for the 2022-23 influenza season, they made explicit recommendations for the geriatric population to be given three vaccines that showed great results.
Dr Hend Al Awadhi, head of Health Promotion and Education at Dubai Health Authority, in a press conference held in October, stressed the importance and safety of the influenza vaccine. She said that the vaccine played an effective role in reducing flu symptoms, especially for those at risk of developing influenza complications, including children under the age of five, people over the age of 65, pregnant women, and people with chronic diseases such as asthma and heart, kidney, liver disease as well as those with diabetes and health workers.
The vaccines are available at all government health centres and private facilities and are free for Emirati nationals and people with underlying health conditions while expats have to pay Dh50.
“People have to understand that the flu vaccine does not provide 100 percent protection against the virus but reduces the symptoms and complications significantly,” said Dr AlJeaidi.
Clearing doubts, Dr Nada Al Marzouqi, Director of the Public Health and Prevention Department at the ministry, said that the flu shot is safe to take alongside the Covid vaccine due to the vaccines having different compositions. She did stress that it was was important to give a gap of three weeks between both vaccines.
Influenza (flu) and Covid-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Covid-19 is caused by infection with a coronavirus first identified in 2019, and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.
Natural ways to boost your immunity against flu
Wash your hands: It should take you at least 20 seconds to wash your hands. Make sure to use warm water and soap and wash your hands after visiting the toilet, and before and after eating. Also, make sure to dry your hands thoroughly.
Humidify: It makes it harder for viruses to stay airborne if there is moisture in the air.
Get plenty of sleep: Not getting enough sleep as well as poor-quality sleep can have an effect on your immune system.
Drink lots of water: Drinking lots of water helps flush toxins from the body and keeps mucus in the respiratory tract thin. If you have a cold, mucus increases to fight the infection and keeping the mucus thin can make it easier for it to be expelled from the body either through coughing or a runny nose.
Good nutrition: Eating a healthy, balanced diet rich in whole foods, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds is important for a healthy immune system. Increase fresh fruits in your diet.
Spend time outdoors: Being cooped up inside buildings with recirculated air in winter can help viruses to spread. Get some fresh air and replenish your store of Vitamin D from sunshine.
Manage your stress: Managing stress, especially long-term stress, may help people to fight germs.
Avoid stimulants: You can strengthen your immune system by avoiding stimulants such as energy drinks, excessively caffeinated sodas, and nicotine.
Asma Ali Zain
Asma Ali Zain is a Dubai based journalist with a field experience of 19 years. She has written extensively on a range of topics and key issues in the region and beyond but her areas of expertise are health, wellbeing and lifestyle writings. She loves tea, cats and sunsets.