According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) during the period of 14-20 January, the number of influenza cases in the country has exceeded 110,000.
Schools and facilities for the elderly across Japan have been pushing a traditional three pronged attack against the flu virus. First, hand washing is a no-brainer (or at least it out to be). Also, anyone who has been to Japan has probably experienced the country’s love of surgical masks.
The third line of defense, however, is rather unique to Japan: gargling. Although gargling is embraced worldwide as a soothing massage for throats sore from overuse or illness, in Japan it has been widely regarded for generations as a preventative measure against cold or flu viruses.
Here’s a video demonstration outlining the MHLW’s previous policy regarding flu prevention, presented by some Power Rangers dancing to Japanese folk music.
However, this year in a surprising move, the MHLW has officially removed gargling from its flu prevention campaign. A spokesperson for the MHLW has said that there is “no clear evidence” of gargling’s effectiveness against catching influenza type illnesses.
Hiroyuki Sakai, Director of the Sakai Clinic, gave more details saying, “the [flu] virus attaches itself to the mucous lining of the respiratory tract and enters the body in about 20 minutes. This means that you’d have to gargle every 20 minutes for it to provide adequate protection, which is unrealistic.”
Old habits die hard, though, so you can expect to see gargling continuing to be promoted by individual organizations such as the Silver Bells Careport (elderly center) in Tokyo who continues to ask that everyone gargles.
Doctors also point out that while gargling doesn’t prevent flu-type illnesses it does have benefits for the mucous lining in your throat.
According to Dr. Sakai, “For conditions which make it easy to get a flu infection, a dry throat is the absolute worst. Gargling provides moisture to your throat giving it a normal state. Even though the virus sticks to it, it’s easy to wash away.”
I’m no doctor but I can’t help but wonder: based on the doctor’s explanation of how the flu virus infects our bodies, wouldn’t spitting out your phlegm every 20 minutes or so be an effective method for flu prevention?
I don’t know. Nevertheless, I’m a fan of erring on the side of caution, so look out if you see me walking up the street.
▼ This poster and the one above were issued in years prior to 2013 showing that the MHLW had been distancing themselves from gargling for some time now.