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PNG takes no chances with pandemic

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, June 12, 2009) – The Pacific International Hospital (PIH) in Port Moresby has reported that it has clinically quarantined seven people suspected of carrying the influenza A (H1N1) or swine flu virus.

However, the hospital is yet to confirm the cases as swine flu because tests have to be done in Brisbane, Australia as facilities to carry out the tests are not available in the country.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) late last night declared that the outbreak has reached the level of a full-blown pandemic, raising its alert level on the pandemic alert scale to phase six.

It is the first official pandemic to be declared in 40 years. Worldwide, more than 27,000 people in 74 countries have been sickened by the virus, with 141 deaths (see reports on Page 15).

PIH deputy chairman, Dr Mathias Sapuri, said yesterday that the hospital should receive the test results from Brisbane by tomorrow.

The hospital screened patients over the last four weeks and tested 20 people for the swine flu virus. Of these, seven have been quarantined.

Dr Sapuri said the suspected cases had been quarantined, meaning that they have been cautioned to stay at home and keep to themselves, wash their hands, wear masks as much as possible, and also to keep away from others, including their family members.

Dr Sapuri said these suspected cases had also been given Tamiflu vaccine, the medicine supplied by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Their swabs have been collected and sent to Australia for confirmation and tests.

"We have done the clinical diagnosis but their blood tests, which we are waiting for, will tell us whether they have the virus or not," Dr Sapuri said.

He said the seven people had flu-like symptoms and had also passed through Australia, where an influenza A(H1N1) epidemic has been declared.

Dr Sapuri also said that if anyone was experiencing flu-like symptoms, they must go to PIH where swine flu tests could be done and free Tamiflu medicines could be provided to those confirmed to be carrying the virus.

He said this was important, so that any cases of the virus could be quarantined and treated early before a pandemic broke out in PNG.

He said all suspected cases must be tested because if there was an outbreak, many of the vulnerable population which includes children, the elderly, those malnourished and sick, would not be able to resist and fight many diseases such as pneumonia.

Dr Sapuri said PIH was in the process of introducing a much quicker swine flu testing kit, which will take only 15 minutes to give a reading.

He said PIH would continue to conduct free swine flu tests for the public including providing free Tamiflu vaccine and would also continue to follow the guidelines set by the WHO to combat the virus.

Health Minister Sasa Zibe warned earlier this week that it was only a matter of time before the epidemic arrived in PNG.

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/

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