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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

 

Flu fears shut down House

First fatality worked in Congress–officials

 
Speaker Prospero Nograles on Tuesday ordered the suspension of work in the House of Representatives after one of its employees infected with Influenza A(H1N1) virus died.

The woman’s death was reported Monday, but the fact that she worked for Congress only became known Tuesday. Health officials were unsure if the flu virus killed the 49-year-old woman, who also suffered from heart and liver disease.

From Brazil, President Gloria Arroyo called on the public and private health sectors to team up in the fight against the virus after she was informed of the first A(H1N1)-related death in the Philippines.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said during an overseas radio interview also on Tuesday that President Arroyo reiterated her order to the Department of Health (DOH) and other concerned agencies to do everything possible to protect the people from the virus.

Remonde is with the President, who is in Brazil on a state visit upon the invitation of Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula de Silva.

Another House employee had tested positive for the virus, a doctor-administrator from the chamber confirmed also on Tuesday.

More cases confirmed

A day after confirming the country’s first flu-related death, health authorities reported 28 more cases of confirmed Influenza A(H1N1) infection —16 males and 12 females with ages ranging from seven months to 49 years, all Filipinos with no history of travel to any infected country.

The authorities did not say if the new cases included that confirmed by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) or that also confirmed by all-girls Colegio de Santa Rosa-Makati in Makati City. The school will suspend its classes starting today to prevent the spread of the A(H1N1) virus among its 800 students.

In its medical bulletin, the central bank’s Medical and Dental Clinic advised that one employee manifested flu-like illness last week and was told to seek further medical attention in a hospital accredited by the Health department. Also on Tuesday, it said that the infected employee’s fever was gone, but he was urged to stay home while continuing to take medications.

Unlike the central bank, another government arm—the military—remains free from the A(H1N1) virus, according to Romeo Brawner, Public Information Office chief.

Mostly mild cases

Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd said that the 28 new cases, like the previous ones, are all mild in nature.

There are now 473 confirmed A(H1N1) cases in the Philippines. At least 400 of these had fully recovered also as of Tuesday, the Health department said.

“Twenty-six A(H1N1) patients have fully recovered,” Duque said. “The total count of those who have fully recovered [is now] 400. This figure represents 85 percent of all the confirmed cases reported since May 21.”

The World Health Organization has reported 52,160 cases, with 231 deaths from 94 reporting countries.

Closed until Sunday

Nograles said that the closure of the Batasang Pambansa complex, or the House compound in Quezon City, will last until June 28, to allow safety and preventive measures to be implemented.

The Health department is now helping the House of Representatives sanitize its offices.

The Speaker’s order came one day after the Department of Health announced that a 49-year-old woman who tested positive for A(H1N1) flu died of heart disease on June 19.

“The latest reported casualty is one of our employees,” Nograles said in a statement. “Our medical services will spearhead all the necessary precautionary steps needed to eliminate further health hazards. These [steps] include the necessary contact tracing of possible victims and their families.”

About 3,000 employees of the House have been receiving free flu vaccination since Monday, and it could be extended to members of their families by next week, the statement said.

Details disclosed

Dr. Ramon Ricardo Roque, the deputy secretary general for administration of the House of Representatives, also on Tuesday confirmed before frightened employees that the 49-year-old victim was a staff of the House Committee on People’s Participation.

Roque also confirmed that another employee has tested positive for A(H1N1), further shocking the employees.

“We have two positive cases of Influenza A virus, the one [where the woman patient] died as reported in the media and [the other] a male from the Congressional Planning and Budget Department. Ipagdasal po natin ang kasamahan nating namatay [Let’s pray for our colleague who had passed away],” he told employees who were given vaccination for the regular flu.

Roque said that the female victim attended a seminar organized by the Committee Affairs Department on June 15 and 16. He added that the woman stayed in Kalinga province from June 11 to 14. The male employee had gone to Malacañang before he tested positive for A(H1N1). He is “now doing well” at home, Roque said.

According to him, they are allowing House employees to impose self-quarantine, particularly those who had direct contact with the woman who had died and the man from the planning and budget department. Roque appealed to the media not to reveal the names of the two victims.

On Tuesday morning, employees slightly panicked when they were asked by their immediate superiors to vacate the Ramon Mitra Building, a part of the Batasang Pambansa complex.

The Senate is mulling vaccination of its employees as a precautionary measure against the A(H1N1) virus.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, reacting to reports on the death of the House employee, also on Tuesday said he would ask the doctor of the Senate to determine whether there was a need to vaccinate the Senate employees.

Enrile added that senators who are abroad must impose a self-quarantine for three days after their arrival. He clarified that these senators would have to confine themselves only if the came from countries where there are incidents of A(H1N1) infection.

Hospitals rebuked

Lawmakers also on Tuesday lashed at hospitals that allegedly have been refusing to take in patients suspected of having contracted swine flu and demanded the revocation of their licenses and PhilHealth insurance payments.

Rep. Arthur Pingoy Jr. of South Cotabato said that shooing away suspected A(H1N1) cases was a clear violation of current laws on the admission of any patient or individual seeking treatment or any needed medical care from any healthcare facility.

Rep. Marcelino Teodoro of Marikina City (Metro Manila), said hospitals that turn away A(H1N1) patients should not only be given warnings of losing their licenses and PhilHealth payments, but should be investigated as well and if proved guilty must be closed down immediately.

The first flu victim was said to have worked under Teodoro, the chairman of the House Committee on People’s Participation.

Lawyer and Rep. Ulpiano Sarmiento 3rd of A-TEACHER party-list said the Health department has the power to actually compel hospitals to admit suspected A (H1N1) cases in the exercise of the police power of the state.

Information drive

Also, a day after it confirmed the Philippines’ first “swine” flu-related death, the Health department said that it would improve dissemination of information about Influenza A(H1N1) to the public through partnership with the private sector.

Duque announced the support of SMART Communications Inc. for the government’s continuing efforts to fight Influenza A(H1N1).

SMART unveiled its Health Watch Hotline 155, which can be used by the public to access the latest information and updates on the novel flu virus.

According to SMART’s public affairs group head Ramon Isberto, the hotline would be available starting today from Mondays to Fridays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) will use its community-based information dissemination through Red Cross 143 to raise public awareness on A(H1N1).

At 5 a.m. today, Red Cross officials, staff and volunteers will be at the Commonwealth Elementary School in Quezon City to launch the Red Cross 143 Influenza A(H1N1) prevention campaign.

Red Cross volunteers and staff will be joined today by artists Erik Santos, Toni Gonzaga, Yeng Constantino and Nyoy Volante, also advocates of KASAMA KA!, in the information dissemination campaign.

KASAMA KA! is an online community campaign that aims to encourage people to log on to an online community to give names and contact numbers of at least five people whom they have taught A(H1N1) prevention.
-- Rommel C. Lontayao, Jomar Canlas, Efren L. Danao, Maricel E. Burgonio, Angelo S. Samonte, Cris G. Odronia, Jefferson Antiporda, Frank Lloyd Tiongson And Xinhua

   

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