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Pins and stamps for hay fever sufferers a hit in coronavirus-wary Japan

Popular pins informing people that the wearer has hay fever are seen in this Feb. 3, 2021 photo. (Mainichi/Toshiaki Uchihashi)

TOKYO -- Pollen season is upon us again. And with the sneezing and coughing that accompany hay fever having much in common with coronavirus symptoms, there are concerns that some infected people will develop severe COVID-19 after mistakenly thinking their pollen allergies are acting up.

    At the same time, pins and stamps informing others that the wearer has hay fever are a hit with people who can't stop sneezing and want to let others know they don't have the coronavirus.

    A stamp telling people the wearer has hay fever, and the image left when it is pressed directly onto a mask, are seen in this image provided by Creema.

    People infected with the coronavirus have reported losing their sense of smell and taste, which can also be caused by a stuffy nose due to hay fever. There are also reportedly cases of coughing, sneezing and throat pain for both conditions. The key to telling the two apart is whether a person has a fever and full-body fatigue.

    Hiromichi Ito, the head of Tokyo-based Ito Oji-kamiya naika-geka clinic and an expert on hay fever, emphasized to the Mainichi Shimbun: "When your fever doesn't go down, that's when to suspect you might have the coronavirus. If you feel tired not just in your head, but through your whole body, then it's possible you've contracted the virus."

    But he also said that in cases where people don't have a fever, but do have several symptoms including impaired sense of taste and a cough, they "would be better off getting a test."

    Hiromichi Ito, head of the Ito Oji-kamiya naika-geka clinic, is seen in this Feb. 2, 2021 photo. (Mainichi/Toshiaki Uchihashi)

    The coronavirus can also apparently be transmitted by people who don't present symptoms. Ito said that asymptomatic coronavirus carriers who have hay fever and are unaware of their infection run the risk of spreading the pathogen through their coughing and sneezing.

    "When you sneeze, you should look down and cover your face with a mask, and wash your hands soon after," he advised.

    Meanwhile, pins declaring "I have hay fever" in Japanese are enjoying robust sales. Since last year, general goods store Epic & Lyric in the city of Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, has sold about 10,000 large and small pins with the design that can be attached to masks. The shop's owner, 39-year-old Miwa Makino, has asthma, and her difficult experiences with coughing fits among crowds of people led her to create and sell pins for asthmatic people. In January 2020, she made a version for people with hay fever as well.

    With the spread of coronavirus infections, coughing or sneezing in crowds has become something to be avoided, and the pins have been praised for helping "stop people being mistaken for coronavirus carriers."

    Miwa Makino, owner of general goods store Epic & Lyric, is seen with one of the small hay fever pins attached to her mask, on Feb. 3, 2021. (Mainichi/ Toshiaki Uchihashi)

    Tokyo-based online handmade goods store Creema is selling a stamp with a design that translates to "I've got hay fever," which customers can apply directly to their masks. Since the start of this year, the company has sold about 200 of the stamps, more than three times the figure from the same period last year.

    According to the Japan Weather Association, parts of the Kanto and Tokai regions of east and central Japan, respectively, have started seeing pollen in the air from the beginning of February. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is reporting that 2021 pollen levels will be 1.8 times last year's in the capital, but this number is still only about 70% of the amount seen in a normal year.

    (Japanese original by Toshiaki Uchihashi, City News Department)

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