H1N1 on rise, should we panic?
As the seasonal influenza epidemic hits Lebanon, infectious diseases specialist at LAU Medical Center–Rizk Hospital Dr. Anna Farra explains the increase of cases, the risks of the virus and what preventive measures to take.
Vaccination and hand hygiene are crucial to counter the spread of the disease, specialists say.
For the past few weeks, local and social media have been relaying news of an increasing number of mortal swine flu cases in the country. Although the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health claims that the death rate due to the disease has not changed compared to the year before, it did issue a statement last week warning citizens of a rise in H1N1 patients, many of whom have been admitted to Intensive Care units.
“I don’t know about the number of deaths but there is definitely an increase in the number of swine flu cases in the country. However, there is absolutely no need to panic,” says Dr. Anna Farra, infectious diseases specialist at LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital. “Every few years you have an influenza season that is stronger than the previous one. This means that the strain has changed,” she points out.
According to Farra, who is also assistant professor at LAU’s Rose-Marie and Gilbert Chagoury School of Medicine, the situation is also an indicator of people not getting vaccinated. “Another explanation that is highly unproven is that the burnt trash has caused our airways to be irritated and thus we have a tendency to catch it more easily. But this is only common sense, nothing scientific.”
The swine flu symptoms can vary from common cold-like symptoms – runny nose, cough, fever – to more severe signs that can cause death, but not all cases need treatment. “The treatment has proven to make the duration of the disease shorter of one day if you start it early,” Farra says. “So people who are healthy don’t really need to be treated. We reserve the treatment to those who are at risk.” People with underlying diseases and who are immune suppressed, older people, young children and pregnant women are considered by health professionals to be vulnerable and prone to develop complications.
According to the World Health Organization, yearly influenza epidemics worldwide are estimated to result in about three to five million cases of severe illness, and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths.
As the international organization advises, preventive measures start with getting vaccinated against the influenza. “Many people claim that they get sick after being vaccinated. Well, the vaccine doesn’t cover common cold but the influenza virus. On the other hand, for those who fear the vaccine, risks that come with it are very small,” Farra explains.
Good hand hygiene is also important in reducing the risk of contamination. “When you sneeze, when you cough or shake hands with someone who is sick, you carry the virus along. So make sure to wash your hands,” the doctor warns. “Keep away from people who are sick and stay indoors if you are sick. Don’t go to class, don’t go to work. Just relax.”
Other stories in: Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury School of Medicine; LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital.