Act fast on swine flu

Act fast on swine flu

The emergence of an H1N1 "swine flu" epidemic with heavy fatalities in Myanmar, an immediate neighbour of ours, should put Thai health officials on red alert.

There are reports that 62 people have already perished, with more than 40 deaths in Yangon alone since the outbreak started in June.

As of July 19, it is reported that more than 300 patients registered at local hospitals, according to regional media reports. Out of 216 patients with influenza-like symptoms, 39 were found to have A (H1N1), 12 A (H3N2) and eight influenza B. Out of 584 severe acute respiratory infection (Sari) patients, 249 were found to have A (H1N1), 11 A (H3N2) and 11 influenza B.

An official from the Central Infectious Diseases Control Division under Myanmar's Public Health Department said: "A total of 763 patients underwent laboratory tests. There were 329 confirmed cases."

The World Health Organization defines swine flu as "a human respiratory infection caused by an influenza strain that started in pigs". The disease was first recognised in 1919 and since then has circulated as a seasonal flu virus that spreads easily.

The symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, chills and aching joints. The most vulnerable groups to this airborne disease are children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with chronic diseases. Late diagnosis and treatment may result in death.

A global outbreak in 2010 resulted in 16,000 deaths.

The media said Myanmar authorities have sped up their efforts to teach local health workers how to implement the correct treatment protocol and prevention and control measures in the affected regions including Yangon, Ayeyawady, Rakhine, Nay Pyi Taw, Kachin, Bago, Magway and Mon with some difficulty.

Some of the affected areas are not far away from the Thai-Myanmar border over which a number of people will have crossed for business and other reasons. Health authorities in the border areas, with assistance from the central health agencies, should be equipped with medical supplies that will enable them to deal with a possible outbreak better.

Infectious diseases pay no heed to geographical boundaries and swine flu or H1N1 is no exception besides the fact that migrant workers from Myanmar and their families can also access Thailand's healthcare services.

It's imperative that the Thai health authorities act proactively to avert a pandemic. In short, they must prepare themselves for a worst-case scenario.

If possible, Thailand's Public Health Ministry should look to provide technical assistance as well as medical supplies, like test kits and medicines, to our immediate neighbour to boost its ability to limit and contain an epidemic that otherwise may lead to fatalities numbering in the hundreds in a very short time.

Local people should be encouraged to stick to healthy habits and practices such as regular hand-washing, especially after touching doorknobs and fixtures in public buildings, as well as refraining from sharing spoons between meals. Meanwhile, if possible, people with low or compromised immunity should avoid crowded areas.

Both laypeople and health authorities could cut the possibility of an H1N1 epidemic by strictly following the principle that "prevention is better than cure".


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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