Swine Flu in Osaka, the situation and facts

Bear in mind that I’m writing this on the morning of 20th May, the situation will change with regards to numbers.

There have been about 130 reported cases of swine flu in Japan.  In Japan it is referred to as 新型インフルエンザ which roughly translates to new form of flu.  There has been wide spread panic about the situation so if you don’t read or understand Japanese it may be alarming.  Here are some of the facts:

  • The new strain of flu is very infectious.  This is the primary reason for the panic, especially in the densely populated areas of Kobe and Osaka, where public transport is the main form of transport for most of the population.
  • It isn’t deadly and can be treated but like seasonal flu if not properly treated there are cases of fatalities.  Again like seasonal flu, old and young are the most vulnerable.
  • Masks, are very effective at preventing the spread, hence the panic buying and stores being out of stock.  As been pointed out by Janne in the comments, only anti-viral masks used properly can prevent infection.  But the official advice is that even the cheapest masks are effective at reducing the spread (since they cut down the distance air-borne particles carrying the virus travel).
  • If you get it you are advised not to go to your local hospital but instead call the specially set-up hotline (06-6944-6791 Japanese or 06-6943-8530 Foreign Languages) where they will advise you as to where to go.
  • Schools have been closed for 7 days, because this is takes into consideration the incubation period of the virus.  The theory being that if children are not showing symptoms after a period of 7 days, they probably aren’t infected.  However, you shouldn’t go out with your kids to say USJ as if you catch it during this time, your kids may spread it when they return to school. Stay home as much as possible.
  • Washing your hands properly is also effective at preventing the spread.  Washing with soap, and rubbing each digit individually is the recommended method.
  • You are also advised to take your temperature before going out.  If you have a temperature of 38C or more then you should call the hotline for advice.
  • Sleeping well and eating regularly keep  your immune system in a good state and makes you better prepared to fend off the flu.  Common sense I know, but some people I know are still pulling all-nighters.

There is some speculation that various vaccination programmes in Japan reduce your susceptibility in catching the swine flu.  This hasn’t been proven but maybe explain why teenagers are more likely, twenty-somethings less likely, and thirty-somethings again a bit more likely. If you are like me, only recently arrived in Japan then these patterns don’t apply.  And they are only casually observed patterns and not proof of immunity.

Take care everyone, I’ll try to update this post if there is any further news.  If you can please take this post and translate it into your own language to post on your own blog or facebook, even just the hotline numbers.

4 responses to “Swine Flu in Osaka, the situation and facts

  1. “Masks, are very effective at preventing the spread, hence the panic buying and stores being out of stock. Even the cheapest masks are effective (since they cut down they massively reduce the air-borne particles carrying the virus).”

    No, they are not. N95/P2 masks are effective if worn and handled properly. Surgical masks are far less effective, and the flimsy masks you get at the drug store are almost completely ineffective. You can check up the research on it. Part of the reason they don’t work well is because the water droplets may stick in the mask, but you keep breathing through it and drawing the virus through the mask as the moisture evaporates.

    There is a minor benefit since they make people not touch their nose and mouth (this is a common means of infection and the reason we’re advised to wash out hands). And it makes sense to wear a mask for those already infected as it greatly reduces the radius around which they spread the virus.

    But do not think that a normal drug store mask actually prevents infection. May sound like a pointless claim – what does it hurt, after all – but it’s important if you end up nursing a family member. If it isn’t a proper antiviral mask, worn and disposed correctly, you risk getting infected too. Which may be a major disaster if there’s nobody else around to nurse you in turn.

  2. Janne, I totally understand your point. And I mostly agree with you but in a way you also agree with me.

    it greatly reduces the radius around which they spread the virus

    The official recommendation about masks, is based on reducing the spread. This is especially important in public transport. Moreover people who are carrying the virus may not know they are, due to the incubation period. So wearing a mask isn’t just a matter or preventing of you getting the flu but in reducing the risk of passing it onto others.

    Yes, I agree with you that, an anti-viral mask is best (I’ll amend the post shortly) but any mask will help reduce the spread.

  3. Ian I’m following your updates on this. Here in Canada we have 520 confirmed cases but except for one death most of the cases have been mild.

    The feeling here is of guarded optimism and most people are carrying on business as usual.

  4. Surprisingly there have not been many mask wearers in our office even though they have been distributed officially as a directive from head office in Tokyo (though some of my Japanese colleagues are so enthusiastic it seems they wear them for high pollen counts!)

    The odd thing is that a lot of people are getting a common cold in London at the moment that adds to the perception that the flu is spreading (I myself had it..or was it really the flu??).

    Fortunately in London although there have been several confirmed cases, people aren’t in a panic, despite the best attempts of the media….well that’s old news now…Pete and Jordan’s break up is the big story this week :p

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