THE NOVEL influenza A(H1N1) virus has reached pandemic proportions since it first surfaced late April. As of June 19, a total of 44,287 cases with 180 deaths have been reported by the World Health Organization (WHO). In the Philippines, 428 cases but 339 have already recovered from the flu virus as of June 22, according to the Department of Health (DOH).

In UST, a confirmed case forced the closure of the Medicine Building last June 22. Opening of classes had already been moved to June 15 as a precaution.

Attention was drawn to A(H1N1) after the outbreak of 20 cases in the United States and 18 in Mexico. Days later, Israel and New Zealand reported their first cases of the new influenza strain which was previously identified as a mutated swine flu virus affecting humans. On June 11, the WHO officially declared the disease as a level six pandemic outbreak after its rapid spread across continents.

According to Dr. Remedios Coronel, head of the University of Santo Tomas Hospital Committee on Hospital Infection Control, influenza A(H1N1), medically referred to as Influenza A (Hemagglutin Type 1, Neuraminidase Type 1), is a respiratory disease caused by a mutated strain of the Influenza A virus.

Symptoms include fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat and runny nose. Transmission, in the form of exposure to infected droplets produced by coughing and sneezing, can occur easily as the normal seasonal flu, according to the WHO.

“In the Philippines, the spread of the virus is slowly progressing because it requires contact, which is why we need to isolate and quarantine a patient to prevent the spread of disease. This also explains the importance of surveillance to contain the patient,” Coronel said.

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To address the threat of A(H1N1), University of Santo Tomas Hospital has posted tarpaulins at different entry points to inform patients about the virus.

Suspected carriers of the disease, Coronel says will be detained in an isolation room while being tested. While waiting for the results, medicine could be given for fever as well as difficulty in breathing. Once tested positive for A(H1N1), the patient will be referred to other hospitals for treatment.

“Patients who are confirmed to have A(H1N1) will be referred to San Lazaro Hospital, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, or the Philippine Lung Center for treatment since it is the policy of the hospital management not to admit A(H1N1) patients,” Coronel said.

Meanwhile, in the UST campus, plans have already been made to prepare against an outbreak.

Dr. Ma. Salve Olalia, UST Health Service Director, said a task force for A(H1N1) has already been formed, headed by Vice Rector Fr. Pablo Tiong and composed of the Secretary General, assistants to the rector for administration, and student affairs, the Facilities Management Office, and Health Service.

Olalia said the Health Service is implementing measures such as regular disinfection, information dissemination, and alertness for symptomatic patients with history of travel and/or exposure to flu-stricken “balikbayan” relatives. During the first weeks of classes, health stations were set up at the entrance of buildings in the University in cooperation with the Department of Family Medicine of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery and the College of Nursing.

“Through the health stations, we can disseminate information, perform line listing for travelers, and conduct consultations with the students,” Olalia said.

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Coronel advised students to always wash their hands, wear protective masks, and practice proper cough etiquette by covering the mouth when coughing. In addition, Olalia advised students to observe “social distancing” of one meter from the person coughing.

“Each one of us (should do our part) to prevent the spread of disease. Even if a student is only sick with seasonal flu, he should still stay at home should his classmates would not contract a disease from him,” Olalia told the Varsitarian. Alena Pias P. Bantolo

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