Doctors in UAE say common cold surge due to 'rise in socialising'

Government officials urged people to stick to Covid-19 rules over distancing and mask-wearing

Doctors in the UAE have seen a rise in patients with coughs and colds in recent weeks for the first time since the pandemic began.

Physicians suggested people were attending more social outings after being vaccinated – which government officials this week warned against.

The rise in non-Covid-19 related illnesses followed a notably quiet winter flu season.

Children in particular are picking up viruses, said Dr Misha Sahu, a consultant paediatrician at HealthBay in Dubai Motor City.

For six months I saw nothing, not even a runny nose. Now, I could easily see two or three children a day with a fever

Dr Misha Sahu, HealthBay, Dubai Motor City

"Compared to six to 12 months ago, we've seen quite a rise in common upper respiratory tract viruses," she said.

"From March or April last year during lockdown and beyond, we barely saw a common cold.

"Then for six months I saw nothing, not even a runny nose. In winter, in our clinic, we had only one family with influenza – which is astonishing.

"It's gone up since spring break, about a month ago. I feel like there's quite a steady increase.

"At the moment, I could easily see two or three children a day with a fever, of which one or two of them may have upper respiratory symptoms along with that."

The common cold is an infection of the nose and throat, caused by one of more than 200 viruses.

Symptoms usually appear one to three days after exposure to a cold-causing virus, and can include a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, congestion, slight body aches or a mild headache, sneezing, a low-grade fever and a general feeling of being unwell.

Children younger than six are at greatest risk of coming down with a cold, but even healthy adults can expect to have two or three viral infections annually.

Most people recover within a week or 10 days, although symptoms might last longer in people who smoke.

Dr Ruhil Badiani, a GP in Dubai, put the rise down to seasonal changes, along with socialising.

"Changing seasons always causes an uptick in the number of cough and cold presentations at the clinic," said Dr Badiani, who works at London Centre For Aesthetic Surgery.

"The air conditioning plays a part – going from hot to cold environments and vice versa.

"Personally, when the AC is on all the time I always get a sore throat."

'We're a little less careful with masks'

Dr Misha Sahu, a consultant paediatrian at HealthBay in Dubai Motor City has noticed a rise in coughs and colds since the Spring break. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dr Misha Sahu, a consultant paediatrian at HealthBay in Dubai Motor City has noticed a rise in coughs and colds since the Spring break. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Authorities reported on April 20 that close to four million people in the UAE had received two doses of the vaccine, and as confidence in efficacy of the jabs increases, residents are more likely to meet up.

Sitting face to face in a restaurant, which is allowed under government rules – though numbers are restricted – can easily spread a cold.

"We are all going out more, socialising more and being a little less careful about keeping on masks," Dr Badiani said.

"Restaurants are all open and we are meeting up with friends, and obviously not wearing a mask while we sit and have dinner.

"Also more of us have been vaccinated so I guess we are feeling more confident with socialising and taking off masks," she said.

Spring break was also a factor, as children spent more time in the water, creating the optimum moist conditions for bacteria, said Dr Sahu.

"I've seen a lot of ear infections, and I feel that's partly because of the usual seasonal change causing common colds and coughs, but also partly because people have been doing a lot more of staycations and swimming, especially over the spring break."

Symptoms of the common cold are similar to many of the symptoms of Covid-19, as most people infected with the novel coronavirus experience mild to moderate respiratory illness, with a fever, dry cough and tiredness.

To be certain of your status, doctors in the UAE recommend getting a PCR test, even if the patient has received both doses of the vaccine, as it is not yet known if those who are vaccinated act as carriers for the virus.

Updated: May 3, 2021 07:42 PM

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