PR No. 156 Health Minister Addresses Press Conference On Seasonal Flu Islamabad

Minister for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar while addressing the Press Conference today said Seasonal influenza occurs every year and the Influenza viruses change each year. Two types of influenza virus, designated type A and type B are of particular public health concern. Amongst which two are; A/H1N1 & A/H3N2 are of concern during the current winter season.

On August 10, 2010, the World Health Organization declared the H1N1 influenza pandemic over, saying worldwide flu activity had returned to typical seasonal patterns. Since then this virus has been in circulation in the human population and is termed as Influenza A/H1N1 pdm09 in order to differentiate the virus from the old seasonal A(H1N1) viruses circulating in humans before the pandemic. Since then this Influenza A/H1N1 pdm09 virus is considered a Seasonal influenza virus and continues to circulate in different parts of the world, causing variable levels of disease and outbreaks. The trivalent seasonal vaccines are available that cover adequately for the H1N1 (2009) virus. The virulence /severity of this virus now is similar to other flu viruses which circulates today with no potential as such of a pandemic.

Influenza virus can be passed to other people by exposure to infected droplets expelled by coughing or sneezing that can be inhaled, or that can contaminate hands or surfaces.

Influenza virus infections including those caused by A/H1N1 pdm09 typically involve a combination of respiratory (cough, sore throat) and constitutional (fever, headache, muscle aches) symptoms. The majority of people with influenza H1N1 experience mild illness and recover fully without treatment.

In older adults and people with certain pre-existing medical conditions, influenza infections can lead to serious and even life threatening complications. A notable feature of influenza is that repeated infections can occur throughout life. People should seek medical care if they experience shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, or if a fever, and especially high fever, continues for more than three days. For parents with a young child who is ill, seek medical care if a child has fast or laboured breathing, continuing fever or convulsions (seizures).

To prevent spread, people who are ill should cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, stay home when they are unwell, wash their hands regularly, and keep some distance from healthy people, as much as possible. For mild illness only supportive care at home – resting, drinking plenty of fluids and using a pain reliever for aches and painsis adequate for recovery in most cases.

Flu vaccine with latest circulating strain of Influenza A virus is highly recommended on yearly basis and is considered as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older.

Antiviral drugs (Oseltamivir) can make illness milder and shorten the time of sickness. It works best if started within 72 hours of start of illness.

The Minister said the following steps have been taken by Ministry of NHSR&C so far;

Provision of free of cost diagnostic facilities’ at NIH which is also designated National Influenza Centre (NIC) since 1980s

Setting up lab based Influenza surveillance network in the Pakistan with 7 sites functional for surveillance and/or molecular diagnostic facilities

NIH continues to provide technical and logistic support to these sites since their establishment

Multiple advisories and alerts issued

Sensitization of health care personnel through seminars, physician trainings, Rapid response trainings, and laboratory diagnosis of seasonal influenza

Contingency plan for communicable diseases [NHEPRN] is being finalized

The 2015-16 Influenza vaccine is currently available in the market from various manufacturers, which contain the current strains of virus and can provide immunity

The Ministry is working closely with WHO for any regional concerns and for the provision of Oseltamivir (antiviral medicines)

The ministry is closely monitoring the current situation and is in continuous liaison with the provincial health department and coordinating with them to deal with untoward situation.

She requested that no anxiety or panic be spread in the public in this regards.

Speaking on the occasion WHO Representative in Pakistan, Dr. Qamar ul Hassan said that the current situation with influenza A (H1N1) pdm09 is not unique. The influenza A (H1N1) pdm09 is now circulating as a seasonal influenza virus. Such situation-upsurge of cases from the influenza A (H1N1) pdm09 infections have been observed in many other countries recently and WHO recommends vaccination against seasonal influenza every year to prevent severe illness. The currently available seasonal influenza vaccine is protective against the circulating flu viruses including the influenza A (H1N1) pdm 2009. Moreover, WHO recommends strengthening the existed respiratory diseases surveillance system for proper monitoring the situation.