I’ve read in the papers today that till date, we have 196 cases of H1N1. I’ve met a few doctors over the last weekend and one of the topics for discussion was H1N1 in our country. I predicted then to my colleagues that I will not be surprised that the number of cases will go up to 200-300 cases in the next two weeks. The reason is that it is difficult to contain a disease that spread so easily.
Earlier, you will notice of nearly 200 cases, most of it are imported cases. That means we have to be more stringent at the entry point. I wrote in the blog earlier that the temperature of incoming travelers should be taken when they land at our airport and before disembarkation. This is to ensure effective quarantine and contact tracing of people who have come into contact with the H1N1 patient. Whether or not they quarantine themselves according to book, we do not know. As long as there is fever in the plane, then that patient is a suspect until proven otherwise. Passengers around him will have to be strictly quarantined and the quarantine will only be lifted if the suspect turns out to be negative of H1N1 virus. Presently, by the time the suspect disembarks and be sent to hospital, he would have come into more contact with other people. It is difficult to do contact tracing of people who have come into contact with the suspected patient, since it is difficult to remember exactly people you have come into contact with and it may not necessarily be the people known to you.
Presently, we practice home quarantine. To be effective, we need the cooperation of the affected victims that they really stayed in the house without coming into contact with outsiders. Visitors are banned. Hence, it requires 100 percent cooperation and self imposed discipline for members of the family who are affected by the quarantine. At any rate, who is to enforce that members of the family do not break this quarantine? At the moment, it is self-imposed quarantine on those who have just returned from H1N1 affected countries. Whether or not they quarantine themselves, we do not know. There is no stringent guideline or enforcement carried out on those who had just returned from overseas. At the same time, I was told that some passengers who returned from overseas complained that no adequate measures were taken at our airport where there were no hand sanitizing dispensers and some of the health authorities did not wear any face mask or gloves.
However, although the H1N1 virus is highly contagious, it does not have high mortality rate (about 0.44% as of June 26) as compared to SARS that has terribly swarmed the world with mortality rate ranging from 15 to 19 percent. It is true that we have to be very careful and sensitive towards the H1N1 outbreak, but at the same time, we must know how to prevent it the right way. Panicking and overreacting to the H1N1 does not help to prevent the virus from spreading.
Maybe the time has come for us to take rational steps to battle the H1N1 and not overreact to it by closing down shops or even buildings when someone is infected with H1N1 virus. It is highly infectious, yes but not all H1N1 cases bring about mortality. We must ensure that the basic public health hygiene is carried out properly. Cleanliness in public facilities is important. In Hong Kong, all public lifts is sanitized daily and the owner is responsible for maintaining this routine. Proper hand wash with soaps, no sneezing without covering your mouth in public places and the wearing of the right masks are some basic steps to prevent H1N1. The surgical masks will not protect the user adequately from the H1N1. The minimum mask protection will be the N-95 mask. I am given to understand that many people are still not aware how H1N1 spreads.
More could be done by the government to improve on public health and safety. The government should rightly educate the public on the awareness of H1N1 so that they would be conscious about H1N1 and prevent it the correct way. In America, there are detailed advices to members of a family on how to take care of a patient of H1N1 and how to prevent the spread of the virus to the rest of family members. I hope that the public and the government could work together to ensure that this H1N1 be curbed soonest possible.