Statistics received today indicate that the Eastern Cape is now facing a H1N1 pandemic. New figures reveal 83 confirmed cases today, in contrast with the Health Department’s statement yesterday, of 36 cases. Whilst the spread of the disease is inevitable, the provincial government must focus on informing people about the symptoms and precautions.

According to Mrs. Nandi Dilisa, deputy director-general: clinical services, the following H1N1 cases have been confirmed by the Department of Health:

East London:54
Port Elizabeth:4
St. Francis:2
Uitenhage: 6
King William’s Town:1
Unknown: 3
Total: 83

In order to minimize the impact of the effect of the H1N1 virus on our communities, the Democratic Alliance calls upon the Eastern Cape Provincial Department of Health to action the following operations, which in the Western Cape:

  • Heightened public awareness and information – the distribution of newly-worded posters, pamphlets and fact sheets via the internet
  • A radio information campaign on regional radio stations, as well as health talks
  • Dedicated staff to man a call centre number to respond to public enquiries
  • Strengthened existing infection control and outbreak response measures at all health facilities by mobilizing operation response teams, district managers and district communicable disease coordinators.
  • All health workers should be required to download the Revised Health Workers Handbook on how to deal with Pandemic Influenza A(H1N1) 2009 from the National Department of Health’s website, www.health.gov.za .

    We are aware of the large absentee rates at some schools and are not unsympathetic to schools that have been hit hard with flu. We urge principals to take monitoring seriously, to enable the Department of Health and the Department of Education see which areas or districts have been affected by the virus, and where it is spreading.

    We will continue to monitor the virus very closely and provide any necessary support to our communities.

    The H1N1 pandemic

    On 11 June 2009, the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 was declared by the World Health Organization. A pandemic is a worldwide epidemic, meaning there are more cases of a specific disease than normal. An influenza pandemic may occur when a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity. The 2009 influenza pandemic has spread internationally with unprecedented speed. In past pandemics, influenza viruses have needed more than six months to spread as widely as the new
    H1N1 virus has spread in less than six weeks.

    With the increase in global transport, as well as urbanization and overcrowded conditions in some areas, epidemics due to a new influenza virus are likely to take hold around the world, and become a pandemic faster than before. Pandemics can be either mild or severe in the illness and death they cause, and the severity of a pandemic can change over the course of that pandemic. This one is mild as the mortality and morbidity rate is very low and cases worldwide and in South Africa seems to be mild.

    The World Health Organization has defined the phases of a pandemic to provide a global framework to aid countries in pandemic preparedness and response planning. The Phase 6 pandemic phase is characterized by community level outbreaks when it has already spread from country to country, region to region and now person to person. For more information, visit the WHO website, www.who.int

    Testing and treatment
    The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) is the authority responsible for confirming all tests related to the H1N1 virus, also the tests done by private pathologists. The increasing numbers of cases with sustained community transmission is making it challenging for countries to try and confirm them through laboratory testing. Moreover, the counting of individual cases is now no longer essential for monitoring either the level or nature of the risk posed by the pandemic virus or to guide implementation of the most appropriate response measures.

    It is extremely resource-intensive to detect, investigate and confirm all cases, including those with mild illness. The NICD and the WHO’s new strategy for laboratory diagnostics are to test only moderate t o severe cases where a diagnosis will inform the clinical management of a patient.

    The Provincial Department of Health will no longer be releasing daily totals of ‘confirmed’ or suspected H1N1 cases. Access to testing is limited and public and private health laboratories are now discouraging testing except in very specific circumstances.
    The treatment for H1N1 – Tami flu – is only available on prescription.

    However, if our communities build up immunity against the flu by using standard anti-viral treatments, we have a better chance that the H1N1 virus will not mutate into a stronger form. In fact, laboratory tests have shown that the H1N1 virus and the seasonal flu virus have already coupled and mutated into a new flu virus. It is important to note that people aged 18 years and younger, should not be treated with aspirin.

    The best treatment is to build up your immunity. Should you have flu symptoms, stay at home for 5 – 7 days. Treat with anti-virals, no aspirin, and step up hygiene.

    For more information, visit the NCID website, www.nicd.ac.za.

    Precautionary measures
    Precautionary measures which minimize, but not eliminate the risk, include:

  • When coughing and sneezing, cover your nose and mouth with a clean tissue. Dispose in a rubbish bin immediately after use.
  • Alternatively cough and sneeze into your sleeve.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as you could re-infect yourself that way.
  • Limit close contact (1 to 2 meters) with people who have flu.
  • If you have the symptoms and signs of severe acute respiratory illness, visit your doctor. Limit contact with others and stay out of crowded areas so as to limit the spread of the disease.
  • For further information, please contact Pine Pienaar, MPL on 082 446 1888