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Spike in number of patients seeking treatment for flu-like symptoms

This article is more than 12 months old

Rise in cases last month linked to start of school year and weakening resolve to obey Covid safety measures

Some doctors have been seeing an increase in the number of patients seeking treatment for flu-like symptoms in the past few weeks, largely due to the flu season and a faltering resolve to comply with Covid-19 precautionary measures.

According to the Ministry of Health's Weekly Infectious Disease Bulletin in 2020, polyclinics saw fewer than half the number of patients for acute respiratory infections (ARI) than in the previous year (2019).


The cases were kept low because of good personal hygiene, mask wearing and social distancing, but some people are beginning to let their guard down as the pandemic wears on.

A spike in ARI cases emerged last month, with a daily average of 869 cases in the first week of last month rising to a daily average of 1,423 cases from Jan 17 to 23.

ARI symptoms include nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat and cough.

A check with several general practitioners (GPs) indicated an uptick in the number of ARI cases within the past few weeks, especially among children.

Dr Quah Soon Wee, a family physician at Crossroads Family Clinic, said this could likely be due to pupils intermingling in schools since the new school year began last month.

Around 20 to 30 per cent of his patients were children, though he noted that his clinic, located in a new estate in Tampines North, generally has a higher number of pre-schoolers.

He reported between 50 and 60 ARI cases weekly last month, up from an average of 30 cases per week in December.

Dr John Cheng, family physician and head of primary care at Healthway Medical Group, said both its GP clinics and paediatric arm, SBCC Baby and Child Clinic, have also been seeing more ARI cases among children.

"Children are more prone to influenza infections compared with adults, and the higher likelihood of transmission is due to the fact that children are less mindful of hygiene," he said.

While children under the age of 13 are not required to do a swab test for Covid-19, Dr Cheng said he "strongly advised" them to go for it to minimise the risk of community transmission.

Some doctors also attributed the increase in ARI cases to a sense of fatigue and complacency in adhering to Covid-19 measures.

Dr Tan Teck Jack, medical director of Northeast Medical Group, said that while safe distancing and hand washing have been well-emphasised, it may be "occasionally neglected" due to fatigue and a false sense of security, especially since Covid-19 community cases here have generally remained low.

However, people should not let their guard down, as there is still a fear there may be undetected cases in the community, he warned.