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Health / Covid measures cause number of flu cases to drop

CASES of flu and the winter vomiting bug (norovirus) have dropped to a level never seen before this winter thanks to hygiene measures and movement restrictions introduced to combat Covid-19.

NHS Shetland confirmed on Monday that so far no serious outbreaks of flu have been recorded in the isles this winter. There have been some cases of norovirus but nothing compared to what has been seen in previous years.

While this dramatic reduction is in large part due to the fact that schools are closed and people rarely go out socialising these days, the new hygiene etiquette of regular hand washing and wearing face masks to reduce the risk of infection has also had an impact.

The health board has this season also vaccinated more people against flu than ever before with a special focus on care home residents and staff.

Public health consultant Dr Susan Laidlaw.

Public health consultant Dr Susan Laidlaw said NHS Shetland had so far not had “any lab confirmed case of flu this season” while in ‘normal’ years around eleven cases could have been expected.

‘Lab confirmed’ are the more serious cases where a swab is taken to confirm it is influenza. However, patients are not necessarily admitted to hospital.

“There have also been some cases of norovirus, but they don’t seem to have spread to the same extent as we see some times,” she said.

Dr Laidlaw added that she would welcome if people became more infection conscious following the pandemic and did not go back to some of the ‘normal’ pre-Covid behaviour.

She said good hand hygiene was the key to reducing the spread of any infection.

“We definitely should try and continue hand washing as much as we can. It is surprisingly effective and people don’t really recognise that,” Dr Laidlaw said.

“Children will have the message about hand washing and the cough etiquette ingrained by now because they have seen it all when they were younger.”

But the spread of any infections could further be reduced by people staying home and not going to work when coughing and sneezing.

Dr Laidlaw said the health board had always advised people not to visit friends and relatives in hospital when coughing or feeling unwell, and expressed the hope that following the experience of the pandemic people will have a better understanding of why that is.

Wearing face masks voluntarily when required to protect others, as is common in many other countries, may also become a thing of the future.

“In hospital we also might see more mask wearing than before,” she said, but at his moment in time it is unclear yet what new policies will be implemented.

“It will be interesting to see how protocols and procedures will change.”

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021