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Japan health panel says chance of double COVID, flu winter outbreak 'extremely high'

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TOKYO -- The possibility of a simultaneous outbreak of the coronavirus and seasonal flu this winter is "extremely high" according to a report released during an Oct. 5 meeting of the health ministry's coronavirus expert advisory board.

    The government is currently considering measures to avoid straining outpatient fever clinics in the event of a simultaneous outbreak, and is expected to announce the decisions as early as next week.

    The report compiled by experts pointed out that seasonal influenza, which has not spread in Japan since the coronavirus pandemic, is likely to become prevalent due to increased travelers to and from overseas and the surge of social activities within Japan. The report said it is reasonable to assume that the coronavirus will also spread during the winter season based on past outbreak patterns. On the other hand, the report explained it is "difficult to predict" the number of future COVID-19 and flu cases.

    As countermeasures, it mentioned the need to achieve high vaccination rates of both the seasonal flu and shots targeting the omicron strain, to establish a system to diagnose and treat both infections at nationwide medical institutions, and to secure hospital beds for severely ill patients.

    At a press conference following the meeting, Takaji Wakita, head of the advisory board and director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, raised patient consultation behavior during a simultaneous outbreak as an issue. He explained, "It is important to show in an easy-to-understand manner ways to respond in case one develops a fever."

    In preparation for a simultaneous outbreak, the government is considering measures such as allowing doctors to diagnose influenza without having to test for the seasonal flu if symptoms of fever are present and the patient tests negative for the coronavirus first.

    (Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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