H1N1 cases in Lebanon reach 82 as WHO abandons count

16 Jul

Dalila Mahdawi

BEIRUT: The number of people with the A(H1N1) virus, otherwise known as swine flu, has risen to 82, Lebanon’s Health Ministry said Friday, as the World Health Organization (WHO) announced it would stop issuing figures about those affected. “Twenty-two new cases of swine flu have been identified since the [Health Ministry’s] last statement on July 10, bringing the total number of infected to 82 cases,” a statement from the ministry read. The tally comes after Health Minister Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh on Thursday put the total number of swine flu patients at 70. A number of the patients include Lebanese who caught the virus locally after coming into contact with swine-flu patients.

“In my opinion, the number is likely to multiply because the virus spreads quickly,” Khalifeh told the National News Agency Friday. He nevertheless downplayed the seriousness of swine flu, saying research had shown it was “not serious because death rates have been limited around the world and it affects patients who already have health issues.”

Khalifeh is due to attend an emergency conference of Arab Health Ministers next Wednesday. The Cairo meeting will discuss contingency plans ahead of the Muslim pilgrimage and budgetary matters for the Arab Health Ministry.

The latest update of Leba-non’s swine flu statistics comes as the WHO said keeping count of individual cases was proving too taxing for countries where the virus was spreading quickly.

“In past pandemics, influenza viruses have needed over six 

months to spread as widely as the new H1N1 virus has spread in less than six weeks,” the WHO said Thursday in a briefing note posted on its website.

The agency said it would continue to monitor the growing epidemic and asked countries to closely track “unusual events, such as clusters of cases of severe or fatal pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus infection, clusters of respiratory illness requiring hospitalization, or unexplained or unusual clinical patterns associated with serious or fatal cases,” as well as increased absenteeism from schools or workplaces.

Countries not yet affected by swine flu are advised to report the first confirmed incidences of the virus and to provide weekly aggregated patient numbers together with details about the cases.

The WHO partly attributed its change in reporting requirement to the mildness of symptoms in most patients. “Moreover, the counting of individual cases is now no longer essential in such countries for monitoring either the level or nature of the risk posed by the pandemic virus or to guide implementation of the most appropriate response measures,” the briefing said. The organization said further spread of the virus was “inevitable.”

Lebanon has implemented a series of preventative measures to prevent swine flu from spreading further or affecting the economy. All those returning from abroad with the virus are examined and receive immediate treatment, with medication also given to all passengers who have come into contact with the patient. Thermal sensors have also been installed at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport to screen travelers for abnormally high body temperatures, a symptom 

of the virus.

Those who have contracted swine flu are mostly males under the age of 20, the Health Ministry has said. All of Lebanon’s swine flu patients have received medical treatment but most did not require hospitalization and so far there have been no complications and no deaths reported.

Lebanon imposed a ban on pork imports in late April hoping to thwart the virus, although swine flu cannot in fact be transmitted through eating pork-derived products. Beirut followed up by creating a cross-ministry, national emergency committee to combat a potential national flu pandemic. The first three cases of swine flu in Lebanon were discovered on June 1.

A(H1N1) has killed 429 people and infected over 95,000 since the epidemic first broke out in North America late March this year, the World Health Organization said in its final update a week ago. But with the UK saying last week it had an estimated 55,000 new cases of the virus, the WHO numbers are already grossly outdated. Cherie Blair, the wife of Britain’s former Premier Tony Blair, has been reported to be suffering from swine flu. Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films, is also said to have had a mild case of the virus.

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