Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

50 Zambales wedding guests sought for H1N1 flu

The Department of Health (DOH) is currently searching for 50 people who were guests at a wedding in Zambales two weeks ago that two Taiwanese nationals infected with Influenza A(H1N1) also attended.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said they found out that the Taiwanese mother and her five-year-old daughter did not attend a yoga conference in the Philippines from May 16 to 20, contrary to early stories that came out in Taiwanese newspapers.

The two patients arrived in the Philippines on May 15 and flew back to Taipei on May 20.

Duque said the DOH is coordinating with concerned local government units to track down the guests and advised them to observe self-quarantine.

And while it is not yet known how the patients contracted the virus, Duque said it is likely that the mother brought it in but the DOH does not want to speculate.

Duque said the virus could have been incubating when the mother and her daughter arrived in the Philippines and the signs came out only upon their return home.

Based on the reports of Taiwan health authorities, the mother had manifested A (H1N1) on May 21. Eventually, her daughter had also fallen ill.

Duque, however reported that the country’s first two confirmed cases of A (H1N1) are “both well and do not have any symptoms.”

“They are still being monitored and will be discharged once their repeat polymerase chain reaction tests becomes negative for A (H1N1). At present, all their close contacts have not reported any symptoms of flu and are observing home quarantine,” he added.

The country’s first case was a 10-year-old Filipino girl who acquired the virus after traveling to the United States and Canada, while the second case was a 50-year-old Filipina balikbayan from the US.

Since May 1, the DOH has monitored 111 travelers who manifested symptoms after visiting A (H1N1)-affected countries.

Of this figures, 15 cases still have pending laboratory results.

“Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a total of 12,022 cases and still 86 deaths in 43 countries as of May 24. There are no new countries reporting confirmed cases of A (H1N1),” Duque maintained.

Panic in Baguio

In Baguio City, a child suspected of being infected by the deadly virus is carefully monitored at the Pines City Doctors Hospital.

The DOH-Center for Health Development in the Cordillera said physicians will find out within eight hours if the child, who has shown symptoms of the virus, is indeed positive from the flu disease.

Dr. Nicholas Gordo of the DOH-CAR claimed they already brought laboratory samples from the child to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in (RITM) Manila for confirmation.

Although officials at the Pines City Doctors Hospital have confirmed that they admitted a child from California, they were tight-lipped if it was the case of the dreaded virus.

Immediately, news about the child being observed at the said hospital has caused panic among residents as SMS messages have not stopped spreading.

Thermal scanning, a thing of the past?

Through all this, the DOH is mulling whether or not thermal scanning is an effective tool in warding off the virus.

Duque admitted he now hardly knew of any nation that uses thermal scanner to screen passengers for fever. 

“It’s useless now. I’ve been to World Health Organization (WHO) office in Geneva, they are not using thermal scanning, no one was giving out alert notice or health declaration notice. It was the same in the biggest airport hub in Amsterdam,” he said.

The DOH, Duque claimed, is thinking of shifting to other strategy like “health alert” or massive information drive to prevent the virus from coming in.

“We’ll talk about it because we might need to shift out resources to more effective strategy. The case fatality rate of A (H1N1) worldwide is very low – less than one percent. That means for every 1,000 affected individuals, 0.1 dies. And these are the ones who have co-morbidity or other illnesses like diabetes and hypertension. Those who are immuno-compromised of weak body resistance,” he added.

The department is planning to coordinate with the Department of Foreign Affairs to check how precautionary measures against the disease is being implemented among American soldiers who are in the country for the Balikatan exercises.

“But I think there were already preliminary talks about how this issue should be addressed,” he maintained.

Travel advisory

Meanwhile, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom issued separate travel advisories urging their nationals in the Philippines to exercise high degree of caution, citing confirmed cases of A(H1N1) in the country and threat of terrorist attack and serious crime.

The three countries’ travel advice have been reviewed and reissued, this time containing new information about the dreaded virus, but the overall level of the advice has not changed.

Australia strongly recommended its citizens to take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before they depart.

The also have to confirm that the insurance covers the whole time they will be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in the policy.

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has confirmed cases of avian influenza in birds in a number of countries throughout the world, including some in Southeast Asia.

The Department of Health and Ageing advises Australians who reside in the Philippines for an extended period to consider, as a precautionary measure, having access to influenza antiviral medicine for treatment.

Long-term residents are at a greater risk of exposure to avian influenza over time and should seek medical advice before taking antiviral medicines.

Australians intending to travel to the Philippines for shorter periods are at much lower risk of infection but should discuss the risk of avian influenza with their doctor as part of their routine pre-travel health checks.

If the avian influenza virus mutates to a form where efficient human-to-human transmission occurs, it may spread quickly and local authorities could move quickly to impose restrictions on travel.

The British travel advisory said their citizens in the Philippines should check updates on the number of cases and their locations through the WHO website with dedicated Swine Flu page.

UK maintained the advisory against all travel to Southwest Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago because of ongoing terrorist and insurgent activity.

Canada’s level of travel warning in the Philippines has not changed but the advisory informed their nationals on the screening measures for the A(H1N1) outbreak. – By Sheila Crisostomo - With Artemio Dumlao, Pia Lee-Brago - PhilStar

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