To avoid becoming sick and stay healthy in a foreign country, it is important to learn about local-common health problems as well as preventions. In Japan, summer heat and high humidity can lead to possible food poisoning, fatigue and heat stroke. In spring and fall, many people suffer from rhinitis and itchy eyes caused by pollen, especially Japanese cedar pollen.
Staying healthy in Japan
Due to a hot and humid climate that gives favorable conditions to bacteria, food poisoning is a common health issue during summer in Japan. Avoid eating food that has been sitting in room temperatures for a long time. It is also helpful to sterilize cutting boards and kitchen towels more often.
Additionally, during the winter, food poisoning through norovirus is common. Please be aware that norovirus is very infectious, with mass outbreaks occurring commonly. In order to prevent infection, wash your hands thoroughly, and cook seafood well. When dealing with vomit or excrement from infected persons, do not touch it with your bare hands, and disinfect dirty floors and tableware to prevent secondary infections.
Japanese summers are known for their high-temperatures and humidity. Lethargy and loss of appetite are key symptoms of summer heat fatigue whereby the body is unable to cope with the heat. Recently, particularly in Tokyo and other urban areas, summers have been especially severe due to the “heat island” effect caused by the heat exhausted from outdoor air conditioning units and reflected from asphalt-covered surfaces. To maintain your level of energy during the summer it is recommended to drink plenty of water, avoid drinking cold beverages excessively, get adequate sleep, and eat nutritious meals.
If you spend a long time in very hot conditions, you may get dehydrated, which could develop into a life threatening condition. To avoid such heat stroke during summer, it is important to take plenty of water, to use sunshades such as hats and/or parasols when you go outside, to avoid staying too long under the sun, and to avoid hard outdoor exercise during the daytime. Furthermore, hyperthermia can occur indoors, if it is too hot or humid. Use blinds and curtains to prevent direct sunlight, and use fans and air conditioning to manage room temperature.
Many people in Japan today are suffering from pollinosis (hay fever). It is an allergic reaction to the pollen of certain plants and causes symptoms including sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy eyes.
In Japan, as many as about 60 types of plants are known to cause pollen allergy. In Tokyo, common allergy-causing plants and their pollen seasons are as follows:
- Japanese cedar sugi (February - April)
- Japanese cypress hinoki (mid March - early May)
- Rice plant ine (May - mid July / mid August - mid October)
- Ragweed butakusa (mid August - October)
- Artemisia yomogi (mid August - October)
People who are not currently affected by pollen may later develop allergic reactions as a result of constantly inhaling pollen in their daily lives. In Tokyo, about one of every two people is believed to suffer from a Japanese cedar (sugi) allergy, therefore special attention is needed.
During the sugi pollen season (February - April), weather forecasts usually provide information about the possible amount of pollen in the air. To avoid becoming allergic to pollen, or to reduce the symptoms, it is important to effectively block pollen from getting into your body as much as possible, using masks and/or special eyeglasses on days when the pollen levels are forecasted high.
If you know you are allergic to pollen, it is advisable to get prescriptions for appropriate medication before pollen levels get high. Visit a doctor two weeks before the season starts at the very latest. Ask your doctor if you need to continue taking the medication throughout the season after the symptoms ease; they may quickly come back and be worse if you stop taking the medication in the middle of the season.
In the recent past, every few years an infectious disease has emerged with the potential to become a global crisis.
The leading ones have been Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), novel influenza (A/H1N1), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola virus), Zika virus infection, and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) which is currently a global pandemic.
Of these, novel influenza A/H1N1 became a global pandemic in 2009 which infected an estimated 20 million people in Japan.
COVID-19 has also spread in the country after the first infection was reported in January 2020.
Prevention of infection and spread of new contagions
As no one is immune to them, new infectious diseases have the potential to spread explosively. Preventative measures against colds and seasonal flus can be taken:
(1) Frequently wash your hands with soap or disinfect them with alcohol.
(2) Respect coughing etiquette.
- Wear a cold mask if you are suffering from coughing and sneezing.
- If not wearing a mask, cover your mouth and nose with tissue or handkerchief.
- As a minimum, cover your mouth and nose with your sleeve.
It is important to avoid the following 3 C's to prevent clusters of COVID-19, which is currently spreading in the country.
(1) Closed spaces: such as confined spaces with poor ventilation.
(2) Crowded places: such as crowded places that do not permit people to observe social distancing.
(3) Close-contact settings: such as close-range conversations less than two arm-lengths apart.
In order to prevent infecting yourself and others, follow the steps below to avoid the 3 C's:
(1) Frequently open windows and doors for ventilation.
(2) Maintain a safe distance of two arm-lengths between people.
(3) Refrain from having conversations in close proximity with another person and wear a mask when close-contact meetings are unavoidable.