H1N1 flu down but not out

The number of H1N1 influenza patients has fallen sharply in Egypt since the start of 2010, but health officials say they are bracing for a second wave of infections.



The Health Ministry said it is recording 500 infections a week, as against 2,500 a week in December.



“We’re still on high alert,” Amr Qandeel, head of the Preventive Medicine Section at the Egyptian Health Ministry, told IRIN. “Our hospitals and labs are ready to receive patients and test samples to ensure that the virus doesn’t spread on a massive scale.”



He said the Ministry had ample stocks of the H1N1 vaccine, and that around five million doses were in the nation’s hospitals.



H1N1 influenza first hit Egypt in July 2009. To date, 16,052 people have been infected and 267 have died.



Most cases have been reported in schools and universities in Greater Cairo and Alexandria, where high population density makes the spread of the virus more likely, health officials say.



Some health experts have attributed recent declines in H1N1 cases to school mid-year breaks, which began in early February and end on 19 February.



“The virus is now in the lowest part of its curve,” said Mohamed Abdelmeguid, director of Abassiya Fever Hospital, a treatment centre for H1N1 patients. “But we expect it to be active again in a matter of a few weeks.”



Overhyped?



Meanwhile, the Egyptian media have been speculating whether the H1N1 threat merits the level of government expenditure on mitigation measures.



“This virus is even less dangerous than normal influenza, which kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide every year,” said Fathi Shabana, a leading fever specialist. “Statistics are rare in Egypt, but I’m sure that this [seasonal] influenza has caused the deaths of more people than swine flu did.”



He said the death rate per H5N1 (bird flu) case was far higher than for H1N1. Of the 96 Egyptians who have contracted avian influenza since the first case in 2006, there have been 28 deaths.



However, Amr Qandeel said the government’s preventive measures had “succeeded in minimizing infections”.



Those who had died of the H1N1 virus mostly had pre-existing health problems, the Health Ministry said.



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