Together with the rest of the world, this provincial government is now facing a H1N1 pandemic. In order to minimize the impact of the effect of the H1N1 virus on our communities, the Provincial Department of Health has actioned the following operations:
Says Western Cape Minister of Health, Theuns Botha, "The most important thing is that we realize that the spread of the virus is inevitable and are spreading freely from individual to individual. As provincial government we need to inform people about the symptoms and precautions. This week health workers will focus on the dissemination of H1N1 information to their local community stakeholders.
"I believe that the radio advertising campaign and the call centre number will go a long way to inform and educate people who are facing flu symptoms, and are unsure how to handle the situation. I want to assure our communities that we are working closely with the World Health Organization, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the National Department of Health and all relevant stakeholders to minimize the impact of the virus."
Western Cape Department of Education Monitoring Mechanism for Schools
The Western Cape Education Department has set up a monitoring mechanism to monitor the spread of the N1H1 virus in provincial schools. The mechanism requires principals to report the number of suspected cases of the virus at their schools to circuit team managers. Principals must also report the level of learner absenteeism. Each district director is responsible for collating the data and for sending it to Dr. Matthi Theron, Director of Specialized Education Support Services at the WCED.
On Friday, 7 August 2009, a total of 190 Western Cape schools have reported suspected cases of N1H1. The most affected districts are the Central, North and East education districts.
The early figures show an average learner absenteeism rate of between 20% to 25%. The normal absenteeism rate at this time of the year is about 20%, reflecting the peak of the annual flu season. This suggests that the average absentee rate is not that unusual, although some schools have reported rates that are a lot higher than in previous years.
Western Cape Minister of Education, Donald Grant, says: "Our primary focus now is on preventing the spread of infection, by providing guidelines on personal hygiene, by encouraging parents to keep their children at home if they have any form of flu, and by providing advice on home-based care.
"We appreciate the way in which many principals have taken the initiative to apply health guidelines. If we work together and stick to the basic guidelines provided by the Health Department, we will succeed in minimizing the impact and spread of this virus."
The WCED will continue to distribute information on the virus to all our schools in the province. The information, provided by the Health Department, explains, for example, how to limit infection and how parents should treat ill children. Schools also have an important role to play in distributing this information, to parents, teachers and learners.
Minister Grant says: "We have to look at innovative ways of getting the message across. For example, we have suggested to schools that learners produce assignments in every grade on H1N1, so they can learn what the virus is all about and how to limit infection."
The WCED has made no decision to close schools. If necessary, this move will be a joint decision between the Department of Education and the Department of Health.
"We are aware of the large absentee rates at some schools and are not unsympathetic to schools that have been hit hard with flu. We are monitoring those schools and will make any decisions on closure on a case-by-case basis. This could include, for example, temporary closure of a specific class or boarding dormitory rather than the whole school, if necessary," says Grant.
Grant urged principals to take the monitoring mechanism seriously. "By monitoring our schools, we are now able to see which areas or districts have been affected by the virus, and where it is spreading."
In cases where the H1N1 virus has been confirmed, the school is advised to inform all parents. Learners that display flu symptoms should stay at home for at least 24 hours. If the illness worsens, parents are advised to take the learner to a medical practitioner or a health clinic, especially if the learner is coughing and has a high temperature.
"We will continue to monitor the virus very closely and, together with the Health Department, provide any necessary support to our schools," says Grant.
Updated Information and ContextOn 11 June 2009, the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 was declared by the World Health Organization. A pandemic is a worldwide epidemic, meaning there are more cases of a specific disease than normal. An influenza pandemic may occur when a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity. The 2009 influenza pandemic has spread internationally with unprecedented speed. In past pandemics, influenza viruses have needed more than six months to spread as widely as the new H1N1 virus has spread in less than six weeks.
With the increase in global transport, as well as urbanization and overcrowded conditions in some areas, epidemics due to a new influenza virus are likely to take hold around the world, and become a pandemic faster than before. Pandemics can be either mild or severe in the illness and death they cause, and the severity of a pandemic can change over the course of that pandemic. This one is mild as the mortality and morbidity rate is very low and cases worldwide and in South Africa seems to be mild.
The World Health Organization has defined the phases of a pandemic to provide a global framework to aid countries in pandemic preparedness and response planning. The Phase 6 pandemic phase is characterized by community level outbreaks when it has already spread from country to country, region to region and now person to person. For more information, visit the WHO website, www.who.int
Testing and Treatment
The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) is the authority responsible for confirming all tests related to the H1N1 virus, also the tests done by private pathologists. The increasing numbers of cases with sustained community transmission is making it challenging for countries to try and confirm them through laboratory testing. Moreover, the counting of individual cases is now no longer essential for monitoring either the level or nature of the risk posed by the pandemic virus or to guide implementation of the most appropriate response measures.
It is extremely resource-intensive to detect, investigate and confirm all cases, including those with mild illness. The NICD and the WHO's new strategy for laboratory diagnostics are to test only moderate to severe cases where a diagnosis will inform the clinical management of a patient.
The Provincial Department of Health will no longer be releasing daily totals of 'confirmed' or suspected H1N1 cases. Access to testing is limited and public and private health laboratories are now discouraging testing except in very specific circumstances.
The treatment for H1N1 - Tami flu - is only available on prescription. However, if our communities build up immunity against the flu by using standard anti-viral treatments, we have a better chance that the H1N1 virus will not mutate into a stronger form. In fact, laboratory tests have shown that the H1N1 virus and the seasonal flu virus have already coupled and mutated into a new flu virus. It is important to note that people aged 18 years and younger, should not be treated with aspirin.
The best treatment is to build up your immunity. Should you have flu symptoms, stay at home for 5 - 7 days. Treat with anti-virals, no aspirin, and step up hygiene.
For more information, visit the NCID website, www.nicd.ac.za
Precautionary measures which minimize, but not eliminate the risk, include:
Jointly issued by the following Provincial Ministers:Western Cape Minister of Health, Theuns Botha
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