Pollen allergies threaten to aggravate coronavirus spread

Japan Today -- Jan 26
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."

- Japan Today