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Health services to activate pandemic preparedness plans

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
30.4.2009 12.06
Press release -

Yesterday the World Health Organisation (WHO) raised the pandemic alert level to phase five, after it was determined that the H1N1 virus has adapted itself sufficiently to become easily transmittable between humans and after the virus was confirmed to have spread to two countries in the same WHO region. Raising the pandemic threat level one phase higher means that Finland will continue to implement its national pandemic preparedness plan.

In this phase according to the pandemic preparedness plan hospitals and health centres prepare for a growth in the patient numbers and check their preparedness plans, central administration reinforces the coordination of leadership and prepares for using the stockpiled drugs.

Sectors outside the health care prepare for the implementation of their own plans.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health constructs a follow-up of the situation of the healthcare professionals together with the State Provincial Offices.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has today given instructions to doctors and pharmacies, which aim to ensure that the antiviral drugs are prescribed only for the active cases.

In addition to Mexico, a small number of local influenza epidemics or isolated cases have been reported around North America, with isolated cases also confirmed in Europe and Asia. It is likely that we will see an increased number of laboratory-confirmed cases over the next few days as monitoring systems take effect. Because it is a new strain of virus, there is still insufficient data available on human-to-human transmission and the infection's levels of severity.

At the moment, the WHO advises countries not to restrict international travel or close borders. The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs has advised people to avoid all non-essential travel to areas in the US and Mexico where there have been confirmed cases of infections.

The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has today supplied Helsinki Airport with a set of instructions to be distributed to passengers retuning to Finland. The instructions are also being distributed at other airports in Finland by Finavia, the Finnish aviation authority.

Face masks do not protect against all modes of transmission

When people already infected with influenza cough or sneeze they send respiratory droplets through the air. These droplets can extend to about one metre. Influenza can also be transmitted by hands contaminated with the virus. Regular hand-washing prevents healthy individuals from contracting the disease and people with flu-like symptoms from spreading the infection. People should immediately wash their hands with soap and water after they cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also be effective.

Using face masks incorrectly may even increase the risk of infection. The WHO and the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) do not recommend that people who show no symptoms of influenza use face masks.

People seeking medical attention at local health care units may be provided with paper face masks to protect staff and other patients from the infection.

Hospitals have their own instructions for staff on using respirators, for example, in cases where patients undergo procedures that produce fine aerosols.

More information

Tapani Melkas, Director, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, tel. +358 9 160 738 86
Merja Saarinen, Ministerial Counsellor, Health/Medical Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, tel. +358 9 160 740 30
Olli Haikala, Senior Medical Officer, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, tel. +358 9 160 732 14
Juhani Eskola, Deputy Director General, National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), tel. +358 20 610 6006

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