NIH evaluates flu situation

Clarifies public concerns and offers guidance as to how to avoid the epidemic


Correspondent January 28, 2018
PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: In the wake of influenza case and information about it circulating, National Institute of Health has clarified concerns as well as guidance for the public.

Influenza occurs all over the world, with an annual global attack rate estimated at 5–10% in adults and 20–30% in children. Influenza is a seasonal disease occurring typically in winter months.

The 2009 pandemic influenza A(H1N1) virus (hereafter referred to as influenza A(H1N1)pdm09) which appeared for the first time in 2009, is now a seasonal influenza virus that co-circulates with other seasonal viruses (namely influenza A(H3N2) and influenza B viruses). WHO declared in August 2010, that H1N1 is now in post pandemic phase and declared both strains (H1N1, H3N2) as seasonal flu viruses.

Influenza viruses are spread from person-to-person through coughing or sneezing or can contaminate hands or other surfaces. Seasonal flu is common illness and can attack any person. It is usually a self-limiting disease and everyone doesn’t needs antiviral treatment and diagnostic tests. Certain groups of patients are at higher risk of developing severe or complicated disease and need to be tested and treated with specific antiviral medications including Pregnant women, children under 59 months, elderly people more so with co-morbidities, individuals with chronic medical conditions (such as chronic cardiac, pulmonary, renal, metabolic, neurodevelopmental, liver or hematologic diseases) and patients with immunosuppressive conditions (such as HIV/AIDS, receiving chemotherapy or steroids, or malignancy).

The most effective way to prevent the disease is vaccination. Safe and effective vaccines are available in market at reasonable rates. WHO recommends annual vaccination for pregnant women, children aged between six months to five years, elderly individuals (aged more than 65 years), individuals with chronic medical conditions and healthcare workers. NIH is working closely with WHO Country Office for ensuring Tamiflu.

Simple preventive measures like hand washing, use of mask, cough etiquettes and annual vaccination can limit the spread. Like other parts of the world, currently seasonal influenza-A virus is circulating in different parts of the country.

NIH is providing free-of-cost services for confirmatory specialized diagnostics. During this season up till now we have tested 686 samples from Islamabad and Rawalpindi in which 133 cases were positive.

It is highlighted that Field Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Division of NIH, regularly monitor the situation and has also been issued advisories on prevention and control of Influenza-A H1N1 In September 2017, and then in December, 2017 to all provincial / area health departments. Seasonal Awareness and Alert Letters (SAAL) is also circulated for awareness of doctors regarding epidemic prone disease including Influenza.

The NIH has state-of-art biosafety level-3 lab at Federal level and has also established sentinel surveillance laboratories at seven sites across Pakistan (Lahore, Multan, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, Gilgit, Muzaffarabad) which provide free of cost laboratory diagnostic services for viral influenza.

For awareness activities regarding prevention and control of influenza, NIH conducted talk shows on TV, seminars in major hospitals and universities and distributed health awareness messages among healthcare providers. The National Guidelines for prevention and control of Influenza A-H1N1 have been developed by NIH and its updated version has been shared with all stockholders.

Rapid Response teams (RRTs) trainings on prevention and control of Influenza A-H1N1, sample collection and transportation, infection control and community awareness have already been conducted at all provincial/Area headquarters.

All technical documents along with awareness materials are also available at NIH website; www.nih.org.pk.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2018.

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