Doctors have been treating fewer patients with common colds and seasonal influenza this year with experts crediting mitigation measures to keep COVID-19 at bay as having an impact on people’s overall health.

The Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci said the number of people getting influenza, which is usually highest in January, has gone down this year because of the COVID-19 protocols in place.

However, according to general practitioners who spoke to Times of Malta, it is not just cases of influenza that have gone down but also common colds and other similar viruses that used to be common during the colder winter months.

They say there have been fewer patients suffering from viral gastroenteritis (commonly referred to as the stomach flu), for instance, a direct impact of frequent hand washing that has become the norm during the pandemic.

The health authorities have repeatedly said good hand hygiene is key to avoiding getting infected with COVID-19.

COVID measures keep seasonal viruses at bay

Mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing and the widespread use in the country of alcohol hand rub have also played a part, the doctors said.

According to one doctor, GPs in private clinics are seeing less than half the number of patients they normally did during this time of the year because of colds flu and stomach flu.

In October and ahead of the flu season, public health officials had urged the people to get the influenza vaccine in an attempt to avoid too many people requiring hospital treatment at a time when COVID-19 cases are reaching all-time highs.

This year, the flu jab was offered to everyone for free, with the government securing 250,000 doses, more than double the amount it purchased in the past.

In recent years, the January influenza outbreaks have often resulted in hospitals being overwhelmed with patients, especially those most vulnerable, being admitted because of flu complications.

An influx of patients seeking treatment for flu, had forced hospitals to postpone non-critical interventions in the first two weeks of 2018, a year when a more infectious type of influenza had impacted the majority of patients.

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