‘Wear face masks’: Experts caution about respiratory illnesses ahead of holiday season

December 13, 2023 - 2:22 PM
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People wearing face masks as protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) prepare to present their vaccination cards as the Philippine capital region limits public transport to allow only fully vaccinated individuals, at a train station in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, January 17, 2022. (Reuters/Lisa Marie David)

Experts cautioned the public about the presence of respiratory illnesses, including the prevailing COVID-19, as people prepare for the Holiday season.

These are influenza or flu, the “walking pneumonia” and the still-present COVID-19 caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Physician Tony Leachon, a health reform advocate and former special adviser of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, urged the public to “wear face masks,” adding that his online consultations presented “lots of COVID cases.”

“Mild cases. But can be risky among vulnerable population. 11% positivity rate. Stay safe,” he said on Facebook on Wednesday, December 13.

Leachon also shared his post on his X (formerly Twitter) account and appealed for people to “be vigilant.”

The physician made a similar appeal the day before, urging the public to “wear face masks and reinstate usual hygienic measures.”

He also suggested that people exhibiting “flu-like symptoms” do a COVID-19 antigen test for precaution.

“If positive, isolate for 5 [five] days and do supportive measures e.g. bed rest, more fluids, symptomatic meds [medicine]. If high risk, Molnupiravir is advised,” Leachon said.

Molnupiravir is an oral antiviral drug used to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in non-hospitalized patients who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19. It is also used for patients for whom other approved COVID-19 vaccines are not accessible or appropriate.

Leachon also recommended that if one’s cough or other symptoms have not improved after five days, they should “consult [a] doctor for chest X-ray” to see if there is a “need for oral antibiotics e.g. macrolides.”

Pediatric infectious disease expert Benjamin Co also shared a post from the Philippine General Hospital’s Hospital Infection Control Unit which talked about COVID-19 precautionary measures, including isolation periods.

“I thought I’d share this [with] the general public as a STRONG RECOMMENDATION re: the rise in respiratory infections. Please feel free to share [with] all so that we minimize having to spend the holidays in a healthcare facility,” he said on Tuesday.

Physician and internet personality Harold Chiu also told the public to “keep safe,” adding that “COVID-19 never really left.”

“We are lucky to have survived the last 3 [three] years, but it’s increasing due to human activity. To add to that, we have other conditions to deal with: influenza, atypical [or] walking pneumonia, RSV, and others. Keep safe, everyone! Mas masaya ‘pag healthy!” he wrote.

RSV could refer to respiratory syncytial virus, the most common cause of lower respiratory tract infections.

Data analysts additionally warned Filipinos of the rise in COVID-19 cases lately.

Among these was former ABS-CBN news data analyst head Edson Guido, who said on Tuesday that the country’s COVID-19 positivity rate “has hit double digits for the first time in six months.”

“In the past week, COVID-19 cases rose by 36% compared to the previous week. Stay vigilant. Stay safe,” he said.

Last December 6, Guido noted that the weekly confirmed cases from November 28 to December 4 were “10% higher compared to [the] previous week.”

He added that the weekly positivity rate was at its “highest level in 6 [six] months at nearly 10%.”

“Now is a good time to mask up again,” the data analyst said.

OCTA Research fellow Guido David on Tuesday also shared that the weekly positivity rate of Metro Manila has increased from 10.2% on December 3 to 13.4% on December 10.

Last December 5, David also said that there was “a 50% increase in daily cases over a period of one week.”

He added that Metro Manila’s COVID-19 positivity rate at that time had “increased to 10.2% (as of December 3) from 7.0% on November 26.”

The Department of Health (DOH) also reported 1,821 additional COVID-19 cases from December 5 to 11, surpassing the previous week’s count.

The agency said on Tuesday that an average of 260 cases were recorded daily in the past week, marking a 36% increase compared to the infections logged from November 28 to December 4.

Thirteen of the new COVID-19 patients had severe and critical illnesses.

RELATED: Philippines sees increase in COVID-19 cases; average up 36%

Quezon City, the most populous city in the country, recently raised its “red status alert” in its COVID-19 early warning system amid the increase of its logged daily cases.

Apart from COVID-19, there is also the presence of “walking pneumonia” which has similar symptoms like fever, sore throat and cough. This is a bacterial infection wherein mild coughing can persist beyond seven days.

The DOH said that mycoplasma pneumonia is not new and is a common pathogen that was detected before the COVID-19 pandemic happened in 2020.

Concern grew after cases of the illness saw a recent uptick in China, the same country where COVID-19 originated.

Meanwhile, the country also saw a rise in influenza or flu cases this year compared to 2022.

On November 30, the DOH said it had recorded almost 200,000 flu-like cases in 2023, up by around 50% compared to last year.

Latest data from the agency showed that 158,762 influenza-like cases were reported to the department through its system.

The number is 45.68% more than the 108,982 cases reported in the same period in 2022.

DOH Undersecretary Eric Tayag said that based on the samples they tested, most of the patients were infected by Influenza A or B viruses, while others were positive for COVID-19.

Face masking, regular handwashing of at least 20 seconds, covering one’s mouth when coughing or sneezing, and physical distancing are among the preventive measures against respiratory illnesses.

Masks, in particular, are able to protect against particles that are emitted by others when they breathe, talk, cough, or sneeze.

Such particles can remain suspended in the air for hours in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces such as air-conditioned rooms.

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