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Health News Tue, 30 Mar 2010

GAR Health Directorate addresses H1N1 outbreak in schools

Accra, March 30, GNA - The pandemic influenza H1N1 2009, which hit the country in August last year, with travellers as victims, has shifted to schools with the Greater Accra Regional Health Directorate recording about 200 positive cases from January 2010 to present.

Fortunately, all infected persons have been treated and discharged and no deaths have been recorded. Schools that have been affected in recent times include Lincoln School, Merton Primary, Tema Parent School and Achimota Basic School.

Speaking to the Ghana News Agency in Accra on Tuesday, Dr Vera Opata, Acting Deputy Director of the Regional Health Directorate, said none of the cases had been hospitalised because of the timely intervention by health personnel. She explained that schools had been most hit because of the crowding in such places and the interactive nature of the pupils.

"They sit close to each other, play together, sing, shout and scream and all these activities speed up the transmission of the virus." The basic preventive measures, which include the availability of water to wash hands periodically, she said, were absent in most schools. Dr Opata said with the schools getting ready to go on vacation, the risks would be reduced. The pandemic influenza H1N1 2009 is caused by a virus that affects the respiratory system and typically spreads through coughs and sneezes or by touching contaminated surfaces.

The disease, which may present itself like common cold with cough, sore throat, fever, catarrh, general weakness, body ache and headache, and sometimes vomiting or diarrhoea, may also lead to severe pneumonia with difficulty in breathing, rapid breathing and chest pain. Symptoms can last up to a week. Complications of the disease include pneumonia and difficulty in breathing.

The disease is highly transmissible, with majority of cases presented as mild sickness, especially in younger people. Regular hand washing with soap and water, hand rubbing with alcohol, keeping a distance from infected persons and wearing of protected clothing by those taking care of patients, are some of the measures to stop the spread of the virus.

Dr Opata said the Greater Accra Region had embarked on massive public education, sensitisation of teachers, health personnel and the media on the pandemic and urged parents not to hesitate in sending their children to the health facility if they should see symptoms of cold. "With early detection, the patient is treated with the necessary medication and put under observation together with the close relatives to prevent further transmission to other people."

Ghana Health Service (GHS) in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) will by the end of this quarter take delivery of vaccines to mitigate the spread of the H1N1 influenza to reduce the impact of the pandemic on health and minimize disruption to society and the economy. The vaccines upon arrival would be distributed to all storage points within seven days. These would be at the national, regional, district and sub-district health facility levels for vaccination of targeted population.

Ghana is among the few countries WHO has tipped to deploy influenza vaccines to control the spread of the virus. The first phase of the exercise would target health workers and the national security agencies and vaccines expected in batches would be 500,000 doses for each batch. Mr Michael Adjabeng, Acting Head of the Disease Surveillance Department, GHS, earlier in an interview said priority would be given to the vaccination of all health workers and national security personnel since they would be at the forefront of affairs during the exercise.

Source: GNA