Singapore

No flu at polyclinics, GPs in eight months - a first in 10 years

A first in 10 years, thanks to Covid safety measures, good flu vaccine take-up rate

There has not been a single case of confirmed influenza at any of the more than 60 polyclinics and sentinel general practice clinics here in more than eight months - something not seen in the past decade.

These polyclinics and GP clinics are used by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to monitor for possible outbreaks and to track influenza strains.

Until the circuit breaker in April last year and the introduction of safety measures for Covid-19, such as the wearing of masks, there has not been a month without any laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza in over a decade that the MOH has been monitoring for flu.

Samples from some patients who appear to have influenza at these clinics are sent to the National Public Health Laboratory for testing.

The last case that tested positive for influenza, according to the MOH's weekly infectious diseases bulletin, was one person with type A influenza in May. There was also only one case of influenza diagnosed in April.

A Health Ministry spokesman said: "This is the first time such a steep decline in influenza activity has been observed since the start of the surveillance programme."

That was more than a decade ago.

TEST POSITIVE

In contrast, the bulletin had 320 people testing positive for the flu virus in January last year, out of a sample of 652 people who had flu-like illness.

The high numbers at the turn of the year were "not unexpected", said the spokesman, "as it was the winter season in the North Hemisphere where influenza usually circulates widely".

But in January this year, not one out of the 231 people with flu-like illness who were tested, actually had influenza.

The spokesman said the MOH continues to test 200-250 samples for influenza a month.

Aside from safety measures that are still in place, Dr Asok Kurup, who chairs the Academy of Medicine's Chapter of infectious Disease Physicians, said the lack of confirmed flu cases could also be from the good take-up rates for influenza vaccines last year.

People were urged to vaccinate against the flu last year to avoid being mistaken as having Covid-19, as both diseases share some symptoms, such as fever, fatigue and cough.

Dr Kurup added "people were also not travelling and bringing back all sorts of bugs".

But Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang of the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health said not everyone may have sought treatment.

He said: "It is also plausible that a significant minority of people might have avoided seeing their GPs or polyclinic doctors for mild acute infectious symptoms in 2020, in order to avoid getting tested for Covid-19 and getting five days of medical leave."

MEDICAL & HEALTH