Seek treatment early! - Persons in high risk groups urged to not delay medical help if they experience influenza symptoms
The Ministry of Health is appealing to persons who fall within the high-risk groups for severe complications to seek treatment early if they experience symptoms of influenza infection. These include pregnant women, young children, the elderly and persons with pre-existing medical conditions.
This comes as the country recorded its fourth Influenza A (H1N1)-associated death. The latest patient is a 29-year-old woman who was pregnant with twins. She died at the University Hospital of the West Indies. According to the health ministry, she had other illnesses, including lung-related complications.
Chief medical officer Dr Winston De La Haye is advising that persons with other illnesses usually experience more severe symptoms of H1N1, which can lead to a worsening of their pre-existing medical condition.
To date, four persons have died, all of whom had severe complications, including heart and lung-related illnesses. This health issue is now being regarded as "very, very serious".
The H1N1 virus is now a category one illness, which means that within 24 hours of suspecting a case of severe acute respiratory illness, medical practitioners must report it to the health authority.
"Patients in the high-risk groups usually have other illnesses made worse by the infection or a compromised immune system. We generally see the greatest effects in persons with non-communicable diseases, such as heart and lung-related illnesses and respiratory diseases such as asthma," Dr De La Haye said.
EARLY TREATMENT IMPORTANT
He said it is important that treatment for these persons is initiated early so that there is a greater chance of recovery.
"I am appealing to persons in the high-risk group, including pregnant women, young children, the elderly, those with non-communicable diseases and any illness or undergoing treatment that weakens the immune system to seek medical help as soon as they begin to notice symptoms," he said.
Influenza presents with symptoms including fever, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, headache and body aches and fatigue. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also be experienced.
Since January, the health ministry has confirmed 28 cases of H1N1, including seven children. Anyone who dies from any condition and also had this type of flu is recorded as an H1N1 death.
The Centers for Disease Control's National Centre for Health Statistics estimates that 56,979 persons die each year from influenza and pneumonia-associated complications.
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 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:
o 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 are 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 those younger than two 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. Tamiflu is the chief medication used for severe cases.
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.
o 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.
o In the event that 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 from coming out into the public and exposing others to the virus while you are sick and contagious.
o 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.
o Persons who have a history of asthma, have difficulty breathing or experience shortness of breath, or who are believed to be severely ill should seek immediate medical attention.
o Individuals who wish to obtain more information may call the Ministry of Health or the nearest health centre.