H1N1 – What you need to know; national influenza plan activated
Health Minister Horace Dalley has ordered the activation of the national influenza plan on the heels of Jamaica recording one death linked to the current outbreak of the H1N1 virus or Swine Flu.
H1N1 is very contagious and potentially fatal. So far, nine cases of the flu have been recorded in the past two weeks, while a tenth case is being linked to another strain of influenza.
The health ministry announced that measures are being put in place through the National Emergency Operations Centre to prepare the health sector for any possible increase in the number of influenza cases.
The ministry's team has been instructed to ensure that the necessary resources are put in place across all the regional health authorities.
Acting chief medical officer Dr Winston De La Haye stated that the ministry has noted an increase in influenza cases over the past six weeks. As a result, the H1N1 virus has been upgraded to a category one illness. This means that within 24 hours of suspecting a case of severe acute respiratory illness, medical practitioners must report it to the health authority. Previously, it was regarded as a category two illness, which gave medical practitioners one week to report suspected cases.
“We have confirmed ten cases since the start of the year and so far identified two strains of influenza viruses that are circulating among the population. Nine of the ten cases are H1N1. That nine includes one death. We have been strengthening our systems and increasing our supplies of medication to deal with this increase,” Dr. De La Haye said.
He said additional supplies of Tamiflu used to treat H1N1 have been acquired with more supplies to come. The CMO noted, however, that Tamiflu is only used to treat symptoms in severely affected patients and does not prevent illness.
Other measures put in place include frontline staff being offered the flu vaccine, isolation areas in hospitals prepared, additional equipment, testing capacity being increased and increased public education.
Dr. De La Haye is urging citizens to take steps to protect themselves and others from infection by observing proper hygiene practices. These include: clean hands frequently with soap and water; cover mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing; control the spread of germs: avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with dirty hands; avoid contact with persons with flu-like symptoms; and avoid intimate contact, including hand shaking and kissing.
WHAT IS INFLUENZA?
Influenza (the flu) is a viral respiratory illness that presents with symptoms including fever, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, headache and body aches and fatigue. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also be experienced. Influenza viruses are mainly spread from person to person through droplets produced while coughing or sneezing or by persons touching surfaces contaminated with droplets.
TYPES OF INFLUENZA
There are three types of influenza viruses:
1. Type A Influenza Virus – This type generally affects the mammal birds like ducks, chicken and in some cases, humans. There are three variants of Type A Influenza viruses: H1N1 (Swine Flu) – H1N1 is very contagious and potentially fatal; H1N2 (Asian Flu and Honk Kong Flu) and H1N3.
2. Type B Flu Virus – This type only infects humans and causes mild fever and is less harmful than Type A Flu.
3. Type C Flu Virus – This type only infects humans and causes mild respiratory infection infections. The symptoms of Type C influenza resembles the symptoms of the Common Cold and is not pandemic.
HOW IS H1N1 TRANSMITTED
The transmission of the H1N1 (Swine Flu) virus occurs in the same way that the seasonal flu is transmitted. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through:
- Talking closely to people with the influenza virus
At times, people may become infected by touching a surface or object which was touched by an infected person, and then they may touch their faces (nose and mouth) and become infected also.
Influenza is transmitted to a healthy person from an infected person through tiny droplets expelled from a runny nose or during sneezing, breathing or coughing. People with weak immune systems are more prone to getting infected.
Once the virus attaches itself to cell receptors, it replicates in large quantities and invades the entire body.
SYMPTOMS OF H1N1
The most common symptoms include, but not limited to: high fever, cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, muscle aches and pains, headache, chills, fatigue, irritated eyes, wheezing, vomiting and diarrhoea.
It is possible for persons to become infected with the virus and have respiratory symptoms but no fever. Severe manifestations of the infection and deaths have occurred as a result of illnesses associated with the H1N1 virus.
THOSE MOST SUSCEPTIBLE TO CONTRACTING H1N1
Children younger than five years but especially in those younger than five years; adults 65 years of age and older; pregnant women; and persons with a weakened immune system, especially those infected with HIV should take extra precautions, as they are more susceptible to contracting H1N1.
Persons infected with H1N1 are able to infect others from the onset, before getting sick and up to five to seven days after. This period can be longer in some individuals, especially children and people with weakened immune systems. Patients should avoid close contact with others.
TREATMENT OF H1N1
Recovery from H1N1 is largely dependent on bed rest, cough suppressants, increased fluid consumption, medication for fever and pain.
Severe cases may require intravenous hydration and other supportive measures. Antiviral agents may also be considered for treatment, or as a prophylaxis.
PREVENTION OF CONTRACTING H1N1
Vaccination is the best way to prevent or reduce the chances of becoming infected with influenza viruses. Two antiviral agents, Zanamivir (Relenza) and Oseltamivir (Tamiflu), have been reported to help prevent or reduce the effects of Swine Flu (H1N1) if taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
However the kind of vaccination administered depends on the epidemiological context.
The effectiveness of Influenza vaccination lasts for about a year, after which fresh vaccination is required. The body develops immunity after approximately two weeks of vaccination. In addition, the vaccination is effective only against certain strains of influenza and may fail as new strains originate.
* Keep up-to-date on advisories from the Ministry of Health
* Persons who develop flu-like symptoms should stay home for seven days after the onset of illness or at least 24 hours after symptoms have resolved.
* In the event you become sick and need to stay home for a week or so, ensure that you have adequate supplies of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand sanitisers (if soap and water become unavailable), fluids, tissues and other related items. This will prevent you coming out into the public and exposing others to the virus while you are sick and contagious.
* Seek medical care. Persons should contact their health care provider to report illness (by telephone or other remote, electronic means) before seeking care, in person, at a clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital.
* Persons who have a history of asthma, have difficulty breathing or experiencing shortness of breath, or who are believed to be severely ill, should seek immediate medical attention.