MANILA - The first community-level outbreak of influenza A (H1N1) in the Philippines has been declared by the Department of Health (DOH) on Sunday in a village in Jaen town, Nueva Ecija province.
Dr. Eric Tayag of the National Epidemiology Center, in a text message to ABS-CBN News, confirmed the declaration. He said that there is already a confirmed "community [-level] transmission" of the virus in Barangay Hilera in Jaen.
The declaration was done by the DOH upon the approval of Health Secretary Francisco Duque as 92 contacts of the 11 cases found positive of the virus also exhibited symptoms of the illness, and after two weeks of surveillance.
The 11 confirmed cases in Jaen town are composed of 10 students of Hilera Elementary School and a four-year-old child.
Doctors and local health officials have also been visiting the homes of 57 other students of the elementary school who have exhibited flu symptoms.
Classes in the school are still suspended and local officials have said the suspension could last ten more days.
Officials have also advised students to wear face masks upon resumption of classes.
Dr. Milgrace Santos, Jaen municipal health officer, said regional health directors in the area will meet Monday to discuss how to mitigate the spread of the virus.
147 cases in RP
This came a few hours after the DOH announced that 36 more people have been infected with the virus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 147.
“[Health Secretary Francisco Duque] announced an additional 36 confirmed cases, and from 111 yesterday (Saturday) it's now 147,” Tayag earlier said in an interview on “Dateline Philippines Sunday.”
There are no details yet about the 36 new H1N1 cases as of posting time.
Tayag earlier said that health officials "have not yet detected any serious community level [transmission], at least... in Manila."
Tayag reminded the public to remain vigilant and always observe personal hygiene measures, like hand washing and covering the nose and mouth when coughing, to prevent the spread of the disease.
He also said that those who are experiencing flu-like symptoms should stay at home and take enough rest.
“You will need a lot of rest and [to drink lots of] fluids. You have to bring down the temperature. You have to take vitamins. You have to wait, be patient because it goes away completely. There’s full recovery from two to three days, but you don’t have to leave your house until you complete seven days,” he said.
Those who are in a serious condition and considered "high risk" should be taken to a hospital immediately, he added.
Among those considered "high risk" are the very young and the elderly, people with diabetes, heart and lung diseases, tuberculosis, pregnant women, people with immune-related ailments or "immuno-compromised individuals" such as those with HIV-AIDS.
He also reiterated that there is no need to suspend the opening of classes on Monday, noting that some of the schools have already established measures to protect the students and faculty members from the virus.
“Those who have cough, runny rose, fever, sore throat can wear masks especially if they are at home… If they go outside, they should also wear masks but not the general public at this time. For those in the hospitals who are taking care of patients, masks should be worn,” he advised.
On Saturday the DOH announced a shift in its approach to manage H1N1 disease from "containment" to "mitigation strategy."
Under the new strategy, Duque said it would be useless to suspend classes if there is already an H1N1 outbreak in a community. Suspension of classes will be done on a case-by-case basis depending on whether it would help contain the spread of the disease.
In communities where the spread can still be averted, containment will still be done to stop the virus from spreading.
Duque cited the case of Mindanao where there is still no confirmed H1N1 case. In these areas, contact tracing and quarantine of patients will still help.
But in areas where there is already a community outbreak of the virus, authorities said there is no reason to "go on and off" with respect to holding classes.
Duque said that in these areas where there is already a community outbreak, households should be prepared to treat mild H1N1 cases at home by giving infected people with anti-virals, practicing self-quarantine, and giving supportive care. With a report from Zyann Ambrocio, ABS-CBN News