>Swine Flu Prevention and Preparation

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By JUNE S. BLANCO 

Information, general hygiene and isolation wards form the core of Bohol’s preparations against the influenza A H1N1 virus that has affected and killed some people in Mexico and other parts of the United States and Europe.

Not the type to wait for the disease – or worse, for death to strike in the province because of the virus, Bohol Gov. Erico Aumentado immediately called the Provincial Board and Bohol’s mayors to a meeting after ‘swine flu’ made it to the headlines in the local, national and international print and broadcast media.

He invited Health Region 7 Director Susana Madarieta to give inputs on the virus, its mode of spreading and means to avoid it. Due to a similarly pressing but prior commitment in Manila, however, Madarieta sent Dr. Cora Lou Kintanar, chief of her local health assistance division instead.

Kintanar said swine flu, the manifestations of which are just similar to influenza, normally does not affect humans.

When it does affect humans, it is transmitted to those directly exposed to the sick animals like workers in pig barns, swine exhibits or fairs.

The virus is airborne so that once a person is affected, he can transmit it to the next person through droplets in his sneeze or cough. Being not food borne, it is still safe to eat properly cooked pork, she said.

The swine flu virus is also known to be transmitted from humans back to pigs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) confirms Kintanar’s facts but added that the culprit – now isolated and referred to as H1N1 virus is actually a new one causing illness in people. It was originally referred to as “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America.

But further study has shown that this new virus is very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs. It has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia, plus avian genes and human genes so that scientists call this a “quadruple reassortant” virus.

Kintanar also said as a matter of policy in cases of the possible spread of a contagious disease, the Department of Health (DoH) instructs government hospitals under its jurisdiction like the Gov. Celestino Gallares Memorial Hospital in Tagbilaran City to prepare at least two isolation rooms where patients suspected of being infected can be kept to avoid further contamination.

Aumentado said he has had this assurance from Madarieta in an earlier cellphone conversation.

At the same time, Provincial Health Officer Reymoses Cabagnot assured the mayors that he will call the municipal health officers to a meeting this week to further strengthen the referral system currently in use, and to alert especially those in the city that has both an airport and a seaport, and the major port towns of Ubay, Tubigon, Getafe, Talibon, Jagna against the possible entry to the province of virus carriers.

Heightened alert and activating the quarantine areas in these towns would be another good countermove, he said.

The governor raised concern over the possible H1N1 spread as the province expects more tourists in time for the fiesta month of May and the upcoming Sandugo celebration in July that will showcase the homecoming of Boholanos abroad dubbed as the Tigum Bol-anon sa Tibook Kalibutan (TBTK) or the global conference of Boholanos.

Just to be extra careful, Kintanar advised the mayors to echo to their constituents to heed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s advice: wash the hands thoroughly and frequently, and be socially distant for the meantime – no more beso-beso and minimize handshakes.

Although DoH is not yet actively pursuing it, those who would feel safe wearing the N-95 mask can do so for infection control.

Kintanar also warned the mayors against self-medication. She said DoH is now preparing to ship to the regional offices the medicines specific for the disease. She advised against self-medication as the available over-the-counter or even prescription drugs may not overcome the virus but permit it to mutate, thereby allowing it to evolve into another strain.

The preparations are basically similar to those made during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) scare in the recent past. 

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