Wednesday, August 19, 2009

NSTLIVE with Tan Sri Ismail Merican: Virus attacking the respiratory system

KUALA LUMPUR: Based on its observations of influenza A (H1N1)-related deaths in the country, the Health Ministry notes that the virus is targeting the respiratory system.

"Most of those who died from H1N1 suffered from acute respiratory distress syndrome resulting from severe fulminant pneumonia," Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said on NSTLive at Balai Berita yesterday.

He said as the H1N1-related pneumonia was a viral pneumonia, pneumoccoccal vaccine would not be effective.

"There are many types of pneumonia, including viral and bacterial pneumonias. Pneumococcal pneumonia is caused by the pneumoccocus bacteria and normally, most patients with such a pneumonia will respond effectively to antibiotics.

"It will help those who are vulnerable, including the very young and the very old.

"However, it is not effective against H1N1-related pneumonia as it is a viral pneumonia."

Dr Ismail also said that pregnant mothers were at higher risk of getting complications from H1N1 and should, therefore, be given due consideration in regards to treatment.

"I have advised all my frontliners to do two things swiftly: whisk those who appear ill or are coughing, pregnant mothers and the obese straight to see the doctors; and to make sure that those who bring patients to the hospital are wearing face masks.

- Excerpts from the NSTLive session:

FluBug: Tamiflu is said to be effective if taken within 48 hours of contracting H1N1. But it sometimes takes more than 48 hours to get test results to confirm H1N1. I heard on the radio that the majority of the deaths were from delayed treatment. What is to be done here?

Dr Ismail: We have stressed that anti-virals like Tamiflu should be given to those with co-morbid conditions, those with high fever persisting more than two days. For those who do not fall into the above category, they may still be treated if they have serious symptoms. We let the attending doctor use his professional judgment for the latter group. There is no need to wait for the test before getting the Tamiflu if you fall into the two groups.

Seri: Some people say it is better to get the H1N1 now so that when the virus mutates and you get it, it will not be bad. Is this true?

Dr Ismail: If you happen to get H1N1 now and you recover, obviously you will get the immunity against H1N1.

But this does not mean you will be protected against a new strain that has mutated.

Vee: Some people are coughing and have got runny nose but they don't have the fever. Some say only when you have fever that the hospital will check for H1N1, although cough and flu are among the symptoms. So how, Tan Sri?

Dr Ismail: I wouldn't advise the public to get test done for mild symptoms. I would rather focus on patients who are admitted and those with severe symptoms. We notice that although there may be patients without fever, those with high fever have got the more serious illness. That is why we recommend anti-virals for those with persisting high fever.

Drama King: Is there a vaccine to stop this virus? I heard the death toll was much higher than what was reported. Is that true?

Dr Ismail: There is a vaccine that is currently undergoing clinical trials overseas.

Hopefully, this vaccine will be made available to us by October. As for the number of deaths reported, we have been transparent and there has been no under reporting.

Faizal: Can an active ingredient called BlueOxy be used against influenza A type H1N1 virus??

Dr Ismail: BlueOxy has apparently undergone tests to say that it is effective against H1N1.

Tropicana: Tan Sri, why are pandemic hot spots not disclosed to the public? Doesn't this pose serious public health consequences when the public unknowingly go to such hot spots?

Dr Ismail: There is no such thing as a hot spot area as the disease is spreading quite fast in the community.

Kevin: Do you see an end to the influenza A (H1N1) pandemic in the not too distant future?

Dr Ismail: We have already alerted the public that this disease is going to around for a long time at least six months to a year.

So it is better for us to get prepared and adhere to the advice of the Health Ministry and take the necessary precautionary measures. - NST.

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