Improved hygiene reducing spread of infectious diseases in Estonia

Handwashing. Source: Stephanie Schupska

Alongside other restrictions, frequent handwashing encouraged to help halt the spread of the novel coronavirus has helped reduce the spread of other infectious diseases in Estonia this spring.

According to Irina Dontšenko, an adviser at the Health Board's Infectious Disease Monitoring and Epidemic Control Department, the spread of gastrointestinal and other infectious diseases is affected by vaccination rates, hygiene habits as well as the frequency of people's social interaction.

"People's understanding of the need to wash your hands has increased significantly," Dontšenko said. "Hopefully this habit will remain the norm even after the spread of COVID-19 subsides."

Compared to the same period last year, the spread of most infectious diseases has been smaller this year. There has been an increase, however, in the number of cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, and Lyme disease.

According to current data, the total number of gastrointestinal infections has fallen by nearly a third: while a total of 771 cases of gastrointestinal infections had been registered in Estonia during the same period last year, this year that number has fallen to 534.

According to Olga Sadikova, chief specialist at the Health Board's Influenza Center, the current flu season, which began in Estonia last October, has been one of the mildest of the last 15 years. Possible reasons for this cited by Sadikova include increased vaccination rates, improved hand hygiene as well as social distancing.

Statistics for outpatient care indicate that the highest number of cases of the flu this season has been 4,078 in one week; in comparison, last year, flu cases peaked at 6,424 in one week.

This flu season, a total of 577 people have been hospitalized with severe cases of the flu or flu-related pneumonia, down significantly from last season's total of 1,662. A total of 21 patients have needed intensive care, down from 130 last season.

A total of 12 people have died as a result of flu-related complications this season, likewise down from the 2018-2019 season death toll of 57.

Whooping cough cases up

Of droplet-borne and vaccine-preventable diseases, the number of cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, has doubled this year, from a total of 17 cases nationwide during the same period last year to 36 cases so far this year.

There has been a significant reduction meanwhile, however, in the number of cases of chickenpox and pneumococcal infections, and while a total of 11 cases of measles had been registered by last May, this year, no cases of measles have been registered in Estonia.

The number of new registered cases of HIV has fallen by more than a fifth, as has the number of cases of chlamydia. The number of cases of gonorrhea has also decreased threefold, while the number of syphilis cases has fallen by more than 40 percent on year.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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