PETALING JAYA: With most Covid-19 restrictions lifted around the world, many people are looking to finally go on their long-awaited year-end trips overseas but another virus may put a damper on this holiday season – influenza.
Health experts warn that the influenza season, currently being experienced in popular tourist destinations in the northern hemisphere, could spread rapidly in the country through the expected influx of foreign tourists and returning Malaysians during the holidays.
The Health Ministry’s former deputy director-general (research and technical support) Datuk Dr Christopher Lee said the likelihood of catching the flu during a trip is extremely high.
“Even if you manage to evade the flu throughout the trip, there is still an 80% chance of getting it if there is an infected person sitting near you on the flight back home, regardless of whether the infected person is showing symptoms or not.
“Not forgetting that flu viruses can survive for up to 48 hours on certain surfaces including video screens, armrests and seatbelt buckles, among many others,” he said.
Dr Lee recommended that travellers get their annual flu vaccination at least two weeks before their trips to reach the desired level of immunity in order to avoid getting sick during and after their holidays.
“High-risk groups, in particular, should get their flu shot regardless of whether they are travelling overseas or not as the expected importation of flu cases through air travel can also result in the spread of flu within the local communities.
“While masking up may reduce the chances of being infected, it is significantly less effective if those around you aren’t doing the same, which is the norm in a lot of popular tourist destinations currently.
“As such, the annual flu vaccination remains the best way to secure a healthy holiday. Don’t leave home without it,” he said.
Immunise4Life programme technical committee chairman Prof Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail explained that while flu seasons in the northern hemisphere are common during this time of year, this year’s number of flu cases has been especially high.
“Flu season started early this year in the northern hemisphere and the number of cases has increased so dramatically since October that it has already overtaken the number reported during the same period last year,” he said.
Dr Zulkifli noted that as at Dec 2, the United States had over 8.7 million cases in what many deem as the country’s “worst flu outbreak in a decade”.
He added that flu epidemics have also been declared in several areas in France while England has recorded an average of 344 flu patients in hospital per day in a single week – 10 times more than the number at the beginning of December 2021.
“Asia is also not safe with the health authorities of South Korea, Taiwan and Japan expressing concern over the increasing number of flu cases daily and fearing the possibility of a twindemic of Covid-19 and the flu,” he said.