Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Bhutan : Swine flu tests on upward spiral

17 August, 2009 - The number of people getting themselves tested for influenza A H1N1 (swine flu) has increased to an average of 35 a day from 10 a month in mid July, say public health laboratory officials.

“Since the first confirmed cases in Bhutan were detected on July 20, a lot more people are getting themselves tested,” said the head of public health laboratory, Sonam Wangchuk. Since then, six Bhutanese have tested positive, two outside the country.

All of them have recovered.

Eleven locations, including two regional hospitals and the border areas, are equipped with rapid testing kits for influenza like illness. The samples collected are sent to Bangkok, Thailand, for confirmation, depending on Drukair’s schedules. While testing is free, sending a sample for confirmation costs about Nu 3,000.

“We have collected around 800 samples since the start of surveillance from September last year,” said a technician at the public health laboratory, Dorji Tshering. “Every week, around 100 samples are sent for confirmation.”

The medical superintendent of Thimphu referral hospital, Dr Pandup Tshering, said that confirmation takes about 24 hours. “But our main problem is sending the samples from here. We don’t send on weekends and at times there are no flights,” he said.

Depending on their health condition, patients waiting for confirmation, are given antibiotics or Tami flu, the medicine for H1N1.

“We don’t wait for lab results,” Sonam Wangchuk. “Pregnant mothers, children below five and those above 65 years are straightaway given Tami flu.”

Sonam Wangchuk feels that the flu virus must have already reached Bhutan by the first week of June, although the first samples were confirmed only in July.

The flu is not fatal unless one’s immunity is weak, say officials. But health officials stress on personal hygiene, like frequent hand washing.

For a developing country like Bhutan, which doesn’t have expensive testing equipment in place, personal hygiene is the best form of prevention.

“To prevent influenza virus spread, cleaning hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub is imperative both at community level and in health-care settings. The simple act of hand hygiene will contribute to reducing spread of infection,” according to the world health organization (WHO). As of August 6, WHO reported 177,457 cases, with 1,462 deaths in 170 countries.

In terms of awareness, Dr Pandup feels that the public health department is doing enough and doing more would only cause panic. “It’s nothing serious. Observe hygiene and see a doctor if you catch flu.”

Meanwhile, investigations to trace the source of virus in the first two confirmed cases have been dropped because no link could be found, said Sonam Wangchuk.

As for the 65-year-old man, one of the second two positive cases, it has been confirmed that he had acquired the flu from a relative, who had travelled outside the country. The whereabouts of the other positive case, a 30-year-old man, is not known because the hospital forgot to note his contact address.

By Sonam Pelden


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