The incidence of swine flu is increasing in the Maldives amidst a seasonal spike in respiratory infections and influenza, health authorities have revealed.
Of 208 patients tested, 27 have tested positive so far this year, compared to 16 positive cases out 475 influenza patients tested during the past two years.
Seeking to assuage fears and avert public panic at a press conference Monday morning, health officials stressed that the situation does not warrant emergency measures such as closing schools or issuing travel alerts.
The 27 cases are not serious or life-threatening, doctors said.
Following rumours on social media about a dangerous outbreak, the Health Protection Agency released a statement at 1:00am on Monday saying that it has found H1N1 positive cases during routine influenza surveillance and testing.
“However, this is not similar to the swine flu pandemic,” the HPA said.
The HPA explained that the H1N1 flu virus has been circulating as a normal seasonal influenza every year since the 2009 pandemic when it was a new strain. More people have since developed immunity and the virus does not spread as fast.
“As such, H1N1 is now similar to any other influenza and not any more severe or dangerous,” the HPA said.
“However, very young children, the elderly and those with certain pre-existing conditions such as lung diseases can have more severe disease or have complications when infected with any type of influenza.”
The HPA said it is working with clinicians, health facilities and other authorities to take measures for controlling the spread of influenza in line with epidemic control protocols.
The health ministry meanwhile called a press conference this morning with doctors from the government-run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, the private ADK hospital, and the HPA.
Dr Abdulla Niyaf, a children’s specialist from ADK, noted that H1N1 patients are cured through the same treatment offered to patients with other types of influenza.
The Maldives has the resources to treat severe cases with complications when the elderly and children are affected, he said.
“So it is not safe to think that we have reached a very big, alarming situation,” he said, adding that the panic could cause hospitals to be jammed and lead to the spread of the flu.
Dr Sheeza Ali from the health ministry said most H1N1 cases were found in Malé. The ministry is coordinating with health centres and hospitals in the atolls and providing treatment guidelines, she added.
“This is not an extraordinary, very dangerous disease. But because we are seeing an unusually high number of cases, we are taking measures for that,” she said.
Last week, the health ministry cautioned that the contagious common cold and viral fever have been spreading across the Maldives and recommended measures to avoid infections.
About 3,000 cases of flu from the atolls and 2,000 cases from Malé have been reported in a week, according to the HPA, compared to about 4,000 cases a week nationwide in previous years.
On Saturday, the IGMH opened a flu clinic from 8:00am to 12:00am for cold and viral fever patients.
As a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of influenza in the densely-packed capital, the IGMH also cut short visiting hours from 5:00pm to 7:00pm and temporarily closed its children’s play area.
As of Sunday, children under 12 are also not allowed to visit patients at the hospital.
Symptoms of influenza include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body ache, headaches and fatigue.
More than 30 H1N1 cases were found in the Maldives during the global pandemic in 2009. A 65-year-old man from the island of Inguraidhoo in Raa atoll who died on November 18, 2009, was the first casualty of swine flu in the Maldives.
At the time, the authorities closed down public parks, advised against gatherings, and opened a swine flu clinic and hotline. The outbreak was controlled in January 2010.