As what started as ‘swine flu’ mutated to ‘A H1N1 Influenza’, the Health Ministry’s Disease Prevention and Control unit and stakeholders are making strides in ensuring that prepared measures are in place, in case there is an outbreak of the virus.
Giving an overview of the A H1N1 influenza, during a press orientation yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO), rep Aminata Kobie explained that the influenza is an infectious disease which is caused by a virus that affects the respiratory system.
In highlighting the symptoms of the influenza, she revealed that high fever, cough, sore throat, running nose, body ache, headache, chills, tiredness and in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea are some of the signs and symptoms of the disease.
Explaining how the virus spreads, Aminata said, “flu viruses are spread often person to person through droplets released by coughing or sneezing,” or by touching surfaces or holding objects contaminated with the influenza virus – e.g. hands, door handles, handkerchiefs, tissue paper and allow it to touch one’s mouth, nose or eyes.
She however debunked claims that the virus could be contracted from eating pork, “it is safe to eat pork,” she said.
Explaining way to avoid being infected; the WHO press officer said one needs to wash hands regularly with soap, keep distance from infected persons, avoid touching mouth, nose after contacting sick person, avoid shaking hands, kissing and hugging, take regular exercise, drink plenty water, eat balanced diet and reduce stress. In an overview of Sierra Leone’s preparedness and response, Sister Theresa Boima explained the Disease Prevention and Control (DPC) unit has a general objective which is “to protect (prevention and mitigation) the general populace from Influenza A (H1N1) in the country.”
She said their specific objectives are to strengthen the surveillance system for early detection of cases of Influenza A (H1N1),respond to occurrence of any suspected cases of influenza A(H1N1) including effective and thorough case management and preventive measures and mitigate the effects and establish the extent of the spread of influenza A (H1N1) virus infection country wide.
Giving a background of the Influenza virus since it was declared a public health emergency, Sister Boima said on 26th April 2009 the Director-General of WHO declared influenza AH1N1 as a public health emergency of international concern, adding that a Core Influenza Pandemic Preparedness team was put in place at WHO in Sierra Leone.
With regards to coordination, she disclosed that two coordinating committees were set up – a National task force committee for policy makers, Ministers and heads of Agencies at the Office of National Security (ONS) noting that a technical committee comprising of MoHS, Line Ministries and health partners and also a Command and Control Centre was established at the DPC.
She also explained that they are working on the development of influenza AH1N1 Preparedness and Response Action plan, support MOHS to strengthen ports of entry both air and sea, Assessment of Health facility preparedness and also revealed that there are plans for the establishment of an isolation facility at Connaught hospital.
As for sensitization, she said a Press Release by MOHS was made on influenza AH1N1 to raise public awareness; they have being doing regular radio and TV up-dates; orientation of District Medical Officers, Surveillance and Operations officers on influenza A H1N1.
Sister Boima explained that they are intending to sensitize nurses during their annual Conference and also orientate Media Institution, Clinicians and environmental Health workers.