(UPDATE) Low-level H1N1 outbreak in Metro declared

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 23 2009 04:06 PM | Updated as of Jun 24 2009 07:19 PM

MANILA - The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday said 28 more Filipinos have tested positive for influenza A (H1N1) infection, as a "low-level community outbreak" was declared in Metro Manila due to an increasing number of schools affected by the disease.

In a press statement, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said the 28 new cases involved 16 males and 12 females with ages ranging from seven months to 49 years old. All of the new cases have had no history of travel to any affected country, he said.

The total number of confirmed cases in the Philippines is now at 473, the DOH stated.

Duque also said 26 more A (H1N1) patients in the Philippines have already fully recovered, bringing the total count of those who have fully recovered to 400. The figure represents 85 percent of all the confirmed cases reported since May 21.

Duque reiterated there that is only one reported A(H1N1)-related death in the Philippines, which is also the first swine flu-related death in Asia.

In a press conference Monday, the health chief identified the victim as a 49-year-old woman residing in Metro Manila who died last June 19. Cause of death was "congestive heart failure secondary to acute myocardial infarction aggravated by severe pneumonia either bacterial, viral or both."

He said "a throat-swab revealed that she was positive for A (H1N1)."

The health chief said the woman's husband and 21-year-old son were quarantined after exhibiting symptoms of A (H1N1) infection.

Low-level outbreak in metro

The low-level community outbreak was declared in Metro Manila, specifically in Manila, Parañaque, Quezon City, Marikina, Makati, Pasig, Mandaluyong, and Caloocan.

Areas particularly affected are those where third-level transmission has been confirmed by the DOH, especially around schools with A (H1N1) cases.

Twenty-two schools in the national capital region have had students, faculty or staff getting the virus.

Third-level transmission occurs when a person contracts the illness from another person who has contracted the same from an "index case," or the initial patient, the DOH explained.

The DOH said they will now focus on curing patients than on contact tracing, saying it is now "impossible" to do contact tracing now that the virus transmission has shifted to migration.

The health department, however, said that the public should not be alarmed by this announcement, since it is not yet a sustained community outbreak.

They also said that the spread of the virus is still under control, since the cases are lumped together in small clusters, particularly in schools.

Work at House suspended

In a related development, House Speaker Prospero Nograles suspended work at the House of Representatives from Tuesday noon until Sunday after receiving a report that the Philippines' first reported influenza A (H1N1) death was an employee of the lower House.

“The latest reported casualty is one of our employees. I have already instructed the concerned House officials to coordinate and maintain close coordination with the Department of Health in order to mitigate possible effects on other employees and their families,” Nograles said in a press statement.

He ordered the immediate suspension of work in the House of Representatives until Sunday, June 28, "to allow the sanitation of all the buildings and other procedural steps needed, in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH)."

“Our medical services will spearhead, in coordination with the DOH, all the necessary precautionary steps needed to eliminate further health hazards. This includes the necessary contact tracing of possible victims and their families,” Nograles said.

The Speaker also urged all employees to report "suspicious incidence or symptoms of said flu virus" among House employees "to help prevent further spread of the dreaded virus."

Two cases in House

House deputy secretary-general Dr. Ramon Ricardo Roque said Tuesday that there are two confirmed cases of influenza A (H1N1) at the House of Representatives.

This includes the Philippines' first H1N1-related fatality, a House employee who worked at the House committee on higher & technical education.

Roque said the second case involves an official who works at the House Congressional Planning and Budget Department (CPBD). This employee exercised self-quarantine and has fully recovered.

He said the House only learned Tuesday morning that the H1N1 fatality was a House employee. He said the victim had pre-existing conditions.

Roque said 49-year-old woman travelled to Kalinga Apayao from June 10 to 12 where she attended a training program with other supervising legislative staff officers. On June 17, she developed flu-like symptoms, and she died on June 19.

He said they still do not know where and how the House employee got infected.

Roque said the second A (H1N1) case of the lower House does not have a history of travel, but got sick after coming from Malacañang.

Health watch hotline

The health secretary, meanwhile, thanked Smart Communications for opening SMART Health Watch Hotline 155, which can be used by the public to access the most recent information and updates on the novel virus A (H1N1).

Hotline 155 will be available starting today from Mondays to Fridays, from 8am-5pm. Duque said the DOH will be providing the contents that Smart will be giving its subscribers.

“We have given them all relevant information on the novel virus that they will need because they would be manning the hotline. However, when tougher questions come up, they will be referring the callers to the DOH-Health Emergency Management Service Operations Center,” Duque said.

He said that apart from the hotline, there will also be a Smart Infoboard Service, a text messaging solution that will provide a more effective and efficient communication service.

Duque said that globally the World Health Organization has reported 52,160 cases with 231 deaths from 94 reporting countries. Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam and Fiji are the new countries that reported A(H1N1) cases. With reports from Carmela Fonbuena, Newsbreak and Jing Castañeda, ABS-CBN News