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Infectious disease experts in Japan are calling on people to consider getting vaccinated against influenza, warning of a possible outbreak this season unlike last season.

Flu vaccinations started across the country this month. But few flu cases have been reported this season so far, like last season, when the country did not experience a flu outbreak amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The health ministry collects and publishes data on the number of flu patients reported by some 5,000 hospitals nationwide from autumn to spring every year.

This season’s survey, which started on Sept. 6, has found only nine patients as of Oct. 3, showing no signs of an outbreak.

Elsewhere in the world, however, a flu outbreak was confirmed this summer in countries including Bangladesh and India, according to the World Health Organization.

The British government warned that the size of a flu outbreak this year may be 1.5 times the level of ordinary years.

In September, the Japanese Association for Infectious Diseases issued a recommendation that people receive flu vaccines.

The association pointed out that Japan did not experience a flu outbreak last season because people took precautions against infections amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including wearing face masks.

For this season, however, the association expressed concerns that flu viruses may spread globally if travel across borders resumes.

Norio Sugaya, a doctor at Keiyu Hospital, based in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, who helped the association issue the recommendation, said, “The immunity against viruses wanes without an outbreak.”

He noted that the respiratory syncytial virus, which causes pneumonia in infants and toddlers, spread widely in Japan this summer after the country saw no outbreak of the virus last year.

“A sixth wave of COVID-19 and a flu outbreak may occur at the same time,” Sugaya warned.

Sugaya said flu and COVID-19 symptoms are similar. “The medical care system is expected to become strained once a flu outbreak occurs,” he said.

“Especially older people, infants, toddlers and expectant mothers should consider getting vaccinated” against flu, he said.

The health ministry is calling for people to have an interval of at least two weeks between COVID-19 and flu vaccinations. People cannot receive the two vaccines at the same time, it said.

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