A familiar Japanese idiom goes nakitsura ni hachi (a bee stinging a crying face). In other words adding insult to injury, or to make matters worse.
This, reports Nikkan Gendai (Jan 22), may be what's in store for Japan from mid-February as the seasonal winds transport clouds of cedar pollen around the nation, causing at least 25% of Japan's adults to sneeze, cough and scratch -- at what will be the absolutely worst time to do so.
Projections from the Japan Weather Association indicate that, with the exception of Hokkaido and Tohoku, concentration of pollen will be considerably higher in all parts of the country than last year. The Kanto-Koshin area, which includes Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures, can expect 1.8 times the amount of 2020. Kinki and Chugoku, between 1.2 to 1.4 times. And in Hokuriku, Tokai and Shikoku the pollen density is predicted to exceed twofold that of last year.
"Looking at levels over the previous 10 years, the density of pollen last year was extremely low," says Dr Wataru Seo, an ear-nose-throat specialist based in Amagasaki City. "Some reports stated that because many people were wearing face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer people suffered from allergies, but actually in February and March -- when the pollen count peaked -- face masks were in short supply. So the fact that the number of patients seeking treatment were fewer was probably due to the lower pollen count."
What's becoming worrisome is that the plague of pollen will be coming at a time when coronavirus infections are at their highest ever.
"Fortunately coronavirus infections weren't spread by a concurrent wave of influenza," Dr Seo continues. "But the symptoms of hay fever, such as sneezing and runny noses, make it an ideal transmitter of the coronavirus. Virus carriers who sneeze in reaction to pollen allergies are likely to aggravate the spread of the virus."
So what to do?
According to simulations run on the Fugen supercomputer, masks of nonwoven fabric (fushokufu masuku) have been shown to be superior to urethane masks, face shields and mouth shields in terms of both blocking aspirated droplets and inhaling same.
Fugen's calculations found nonwoven fabric masks and cloth masks to be roughly equal in their ability to block around 80% of aspirated droplets, but nonwoven fabric masks were superior in blocking inhalation of same, by 70% versus 50% for cloth masks. Face shields and mouth shields were effective in reducing aspirated droplets by 80% and 90% respectively, but were ineffective in protecting the wearer from inhaling same.
"There are more risks to hay fever sufferers," the aforementioned Dr. Seo points out. "For instance, they may remove their masks to blow their noses; or, if their eyes become itchy, rubbing them may make them more vulnerable to coronavirus infection. I'd like to see people with allergies to seek treatment as soon as symptoms develop."
As some of the initial symptoms of hay fever may resemble that of COVID-19, there is a chance that this may delay diagnosis in people who have contracted the latter. As hay fever symptoms decline on rainy days, the persistence of symptoms such as a runny nose may be a sign that a person has contracted COVID.
The coronavirus has become almost ubiquitous. The source of one cluster infection among employees of Tokyo's Oedo subway line appears to be use of manual rotary faucets in restrooms. At a national hospital in Oita, it was traced back to common use of touch-screens on tablet computers. And now, concerns are increasing that pollen allergies will aggravate transmission.
Kunio Yano, a physician in Hamamatsu City, notes that many alcohol-based sanitizer products are ineffective against the virus, instead recommending that chlorine-based products with a density of 80 ppm or higher be utilized for wiping down surfaces.
The real fear is that with the onset of the allergy season, people with "corona fatigue" may be lowering their guard -- just at the time heightened caution is needed.© Japan Today