A 29-year-old pregnant woman who tested positive for the H1N1 flu virus died Sunday morning while undergoing treatment at the intensive care unit at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Malé.
IGMH Spokesman Ahmed Mausoom told the Maldives Independent that she was hospitalised on March 5 and was breathing through a ventilator when she died.
He declined to provide further details, citing patient confidentiality. According to local media, doctors were unable to save the life of her baby.
Another woman, who tested positive for H1N1, and her prematurely born baby are reportedly in critical condition in IGMH.
Mausoom said eight flu patients are presently undergoing treatment in the ICU, some of whom are breathing with the aid of ventilators.
The death of the pregnant woman brings the H1N1 death toll to five this year. A 79-year-old man who died at IGMH last week was the fourth fatality.
“The man who died on Thursday came in because of a heart problem, but he also tested positive for H1N1,” Mausoom said.
A 46-year-old Bangladeshi man died last week and two Maldivians, a 27-year-old man and a 51-year-old woman, died earlier this month.
According to the latest statistics from the Health Protection Agency, 185 out of 501 suspected cases tested as of Friday have tested positive for the H1N1 subtype of influenza.
Some 31 patients were hospitalised as of Friday and 12 patients were discharged in the two days prior.
However, the number of nationwide flu clinic consultations has declined from a peak of 2,649 on March 16 to 637 on Friday.
The rapid spread of H1N1 amid a seasonal outbreak of the flu and viral fever prompted schools and state universities to close earlier this month. But the education ministry decided to resume the first term on Sunday after a week-long mid-term break.
The HPA previously explained that since the 2009 pandemic when it was a new strain, the H1N1 “swine flu” virus is now “similar to any other influenza and not any more severe or dangerous.”
Most people who are infected recover in less than two weeks, but children under five years of age, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with chronic conditions such as lung or heart diseases are at risk of developing life-threatening complications like pneumonia.
Mausoom from the IGMH meanwhile stressed that the recent deaths were “not because of H1N1 in itself.”
He added: “Most of the people being treated are high-risk patients being treated for other illnesses, but who had tested positive for H1N1 too.”
The two tertiary hospitals in Malé have been vaccinating pregnant women since earlier this month. The vaccine is also available for pregnant women at atoll and regional hospitals.
Last week, the health authorities began vaccinating cancer patients, people with transplants, patients undergoing treatment for respiratory illnesses, patients undergoing dialysis, and people above 65 years of age with health problems.
The influenza vaccine is available from the government’s Dhamanaveshi clinic and ADK hospital in Malé as well as the Hulhumalé hospital and regional hospitals and health centres in the atolls.
Nearly 900 pregnant women were vaccinated as of last week.
On Thursday, Dr Arvind Mathur, the World Health Organisation’s representative to the Maldives, said in a statement that the organisation is closely monitoring the flu outbreak.
“Timely detection of cases and treatment with antivirals for severe cases, as per WHO global guidelines, is key to minimising the impact of seasonal flu,” he said.
In addition to providing 1,000 courses of the antiviral Tamiflu medicine to treat severe flu cases, the WHO is procuring 200 more courses as well as N95 masks, other face shields and gowns for use by health workers.
“Flu vaccination being the most effective preventive measure, WHO is procuring 30,000 doses to facilitate ministry of health’s vaccination efforts,” Dr Mathur said.
He added that the WHO “does not recommend any travel or trade restriction or entry screening for seasonal flu.”
The WHO recommended strengthening capacity to deal with seasonal outbreaks and stressed the importance of preventive measures and appropriate health-seeking behaviour.
“Simple measures such as washing hands frequently, covering cough or sneeze, cleaning surfaces touched by numerous people such as door handles, telephones etc, and staying home when you have flu, are effective measures for preventing spread of flu,” the WHO advised.