Worries of a flu outbreak around the world

by ASILA JALIL / pic by TMR FILE PIX

AN INFLUENZA scare is ravaging Asia with more deaths being recorded in China and new cases being detected, including in the US, as authorities raise the alarm level over worries the spread can turn into an outbreak.

Tension heightened as a mysterious Chinese coronavirus claimed the lives of nine people yesterday while hundreds were infected. The situation is worsening with rising deaths reported due to seasonal influenza.

In Taiwan, eight people died of seasonal influenza last week, according to reports, with a total of 124,118 people seeking medical help for flu-like symptoms between Jan 5 and Jan 11.

More cases have been reported in many countries as the spread is facilitated with the ease of travel. The World Health Organisation is monitoring the situation and had not ruled out the possibility of declaring an international public health emergency.

Governments across many countries had increased health checks and screening at airports to prevent the spread from becoming a pandemic.

The SARS virus killed almost 650 people in China and Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003, and sent the latter’s economy into recession.

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said improvements in the health monitoring measures at entry ports could further reduce the spread of the virus.

“It is more important to ensure that the health authorities remain vigilant, be aware and informed about the disease and its symptoms, as well as the progress of the outbreak, and closely coordinate information sharing,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) yesterday.

“Most importantly, the public must not be complacent,” he said.

Azrul said Malaysians, especially those who have been travelling abroad, should closely monitor their health and seek medical attention if they feel unwell.

As school children are more susceptible, Azrul said there should be a limit on the contact among school children as it could reduce the spread of the virus among the children, as well as the wider community.

“The public and children need to practise better personal hygiene, including washing hands regularly, having enough bed rest and drinking lots of water,” he added.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr N Ganabaskaran said the public plays an important role to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We believe the government has increased surveillance at entry points to the country. Perhaps more efforts are needed to educate the public on preventative measures,” he told TMR.

Health DG Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement yesterday that not all flu cases are caused by influenza and patients who have been affected by the virus are generally healed without any specific treatment.

He also said fears of the outbreak in schools nationwide are under control and preventive measures have been taken.

Dr Noor Hisham said only two schools have been closed due to the virus which are SM Sains Teluk Intan, Perak (from Jan 11 until Jan 19, 2020), and SK Stella Maris, Sabah (from yesterday until Jan 28, 2020), while three schools in Penang closed some classes following discussions between the health office and schools involved.

He said the majority of the reports on respiratory tract infections received by the National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre for the first three weeks of 2020 involved schools.

“Among the contributing factors to this situation is the transmission of the influenza virus that could easily take place in densely populated areas, such as schools where the students interact with each other throughout the school sessions.”