Year-end flu season back as doctors in Singapore see rise in respiratory infections
Health authorities abroad have warned of a “tripledemic” - concurrent outbreaks of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus during the winter season.
SINGAPORE: Flu season is back in Singapore, and doctors are seeing a rise in cases of respiratory infection - some by as much as 20 per cent.
Overseas, health authorities have warned of a “tripledemic” involving concurrent outbreaks of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus during the winter season.
Clinics have been rushing to ensure they have enough medication available during this period, amid a looming COVID-19 wave with more people travelling and with upcoming year-end festivities.
At Fullerton Health, for instance, patient visits have gone up by 10 to 20 per cent over the last few months.
The healthcare chain, which has around 30 clinics islandwide, has seen flu cases nearly double, and doctors are now watching out for certain high-risk groups.
RISE IN FLU CASES
“Over these last two years, especially with the younger children and the elderly - they have not had exposure, so it's kind of like your immunity breaks, and you have not been exposed to flu viruses for a while,” said Dr Ethan Lim, medical director at Fullerton Health.
“Then when you get hit by a flu virus, you may experience more severe symptoms. Of course, for the more vulnerable groups like the elderly and younger children - they may suffer more and you may have more severe cases or even complications in them. So those are the worries at this point in time.”
Dr Lim added that the demand for medication “is always tight, but we are still getting all the medicine that we need”.
At Healthway Medical, cases have also gone up. To ensure that its 50 clinics are able to meet the increasing year-end demand, the group has been stocking up on medication, especially those for cough, cold and fever.
“We are always planning ahead of time. During the seasonal period, the holiday seasons, we do often see, for the past few years, an increase in influenza, respiratory tract infection cases,” said Dr Teo Cheng Rong, family physician at Healthway Medical.
“So we have sufficient buffers, in terms of medications and medical supplies to cope with any increase in influenza or COVID-19 cases.”
Dr Teo noted that there are also various factors at play, including unforeseen global shortages.
“But we do whatever we can in terms of buffering our stock supplies, so sometimes our purchaser may source other forms or other sources of medications, and that will help to tide over the period, whereby certain brands may be in short supply,” he added.
Doctors told CNA that challenges in getting medical supplies could stem from supply chain issues and a rise in patient numbers.
FLU SHOTS IN HIGH DEMAND
Meanwhile, flu vaccinations are in high demand.
Doctors at Phoenix Medical are administering about 100 flu shots a week, compared to the 20 to 30 weekly jabs in previous years.
One likely reason is uptick in cross-border travel this year, said the group.
“With the borders being reopened, more travellers are keen to actually have the influenza vaccinations prior to their travel,” said Dr Chua Hshan Cher, medical director and family physician at Phoenix Medical.
“And this has spurred demand this year, compared to say, the past two, three years.”
Travellers should also still take precautions such as practising good personal hygiene and masking up whenever needed, cautioned observers.
Associate Professor Yvonne Su of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS Medical School told CNA938’s Asia First that it is especially important to get a flu jab when travelling to colder countries, where the flu is active.
“When they go to those travel destinations, they may catch the viruses and when they come back to Singapore, they could spread to the vulnerable groups,” she added.