BANGKOK — Respiratory diseases, especially the flu, have diminished to a record low throughout this year due to new hygiene habits Thailand adopted in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, medical experts said.
As of publication time, cases of influenza this year have dropped by a whopping 70 percent drop compared to 2019. The case number is also far below the five-year average. Officials attribute the phenomenon to the omnipresent facemasks and other measures taken up by Thais living under the ever-looming threat of the coronavirus.
“Since COVID-19 towards the beginning of this year, we found that measures such as social distancing, hand-washing, and wearing face masks have decreased respiratory diseases,” Rungrueng Kitphati, spokesman of the Ministry of Public Health, said by phone Tuesday.
It’s not the flu either; Rungrueng said hand foot mouth diseases also dropped significantly.
“Even during this cold season – viruses love it – we are finding fewer patients than last year,” Rungrueng said.
According to the Department of Disease Control, from Jan. 1 to Nov 10, there were 116,052 reported cases of influenza, with three deaths nationwide.
That’s almost a 70 percent drop from the past year. Between Jan. 1, 2019 and Jan. 7, 2020, a total of 390,773 cases of influenza were noted, with 27 dead.
This year’s numbers also compare favorably to years prior: during Jan. to Dec. 2018, officials recorded more than 172,000 cases and 31 deaths, close to the five-year-average.
Those at most risk of influenza in Thailand are school children, who in turn often infect parents and grandparents with them. The flu can be fatal for the elderly with preexisting medical conditions.
From Jan. 1 to Aug. 15, 425 people with hand, foot, and mouth disease were recorded – while 6,436 people were infected in 2019. Neither year saw deaths. In both years, 1-year-olds were the most susceptible.
Although the latest report from August noted that the last half of 2020 had still not been accounted for, there were likely to be fewer patients from the disease than the average from 2015 to 2019.
Thailand has won global renown for its ability to contain the domestic outbreak of the coronavirus, despite having the first known case of infection outside China, where the virus is thought to have originated.
Just earlier this week, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Thailand’s effort to control the pandemic. Speaking at the 73rd World Health Assembly, Ghebreyesus said Thailand’s unique feats are not just a coincidence, but the result of serious efforts and effective policies.
The cumulative number of coronavirus infections in Thailand stands at fewer than 4,000 cases, with most of the patients having recovered. Official records say 60 people have died as a result of the virus.