WHO steps up measures against swine flu
In the wake of the swine flu outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday raised the pandemic alert level in an attempt to steer efforts to control the epidemic caused by the new flu strain. The move to raise the threat level was expected. National public health authorities are now scrambling to issue guidelines for travellers to contain the spread of the virus and to speed up detection of possible swine flu cases.
According to the WHO, it is still possible to prevent a global pandemic, because the disease has only spread to a limited number of areas or to a small number of patients. However, there have also been reports of confirmed cases in new countries, such as New Zealand and Israel, and suspected cases in a number of other countries. In Europe, the only confirmed cases of swine flu have been in Spain (1) and Scotland (2).
In practice, the raised pandemic threat level means that health care providers are making preparations to quickly identify people infected with the new flu strain and provide them with appropriate and safe treatment. In Finland, the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) today supplied health care providers with detailed guidelines on the matter, and will complement them as new information becomes available.Information for returning travellers
Early detection and containment are key to stopping the spread of any influenza. After returning from infected areas such as Mexico or the United States, people are advised to monitor their health closely for the next seven days. Travellers should contact their general practitioner by phone if they observe any of the following symptoms: fever (38 °C or more) or respiratory problems such as cough, a sore throat or stuffy nose. Other typical influenza symptoms include body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.
To prevent the spread of infections, patients should talk to their physician over the phone before seeking medical care. The physician will interview the patient to get information about his or her travels and symptoms, after which the patient will be referred to further examination and treatment if necessary. At an early stage of an epidemic outbreak, influenza infections are always confirmed through laboratory testing.
All persons who have been in close contact with people infected with swine flu should also monitor their health.Information for travellers
Any persons who are about to travel to potentially infected areas are advised to acquire information about the current situation in their destination. Information is available on THL's website, for example. Information is also available from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Travellers should follow general guidelines for hygiene while travelling. More information on good hygiene techniques is available online.Guidelines for physicians
THL has sent out its online instructions to the hospital districts, to be distributed to the municipal health centres parallel to local guidelines. Physicians are recommended to prescribe the anti-viral flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza only in confirmed cases of influenza, or in clinically obvious cases, if the virus has been confirmed in the municipality concerned.Instructions for hospital districts, health centres and the municipal social sector
The Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health advises hospital districts, health centres and municipal social care departments to update their emergency preparedness plans in preparation for a possible pandemic influenza. Provisions should be made to ensure a sufficient supply of resources and to update relevant communications plans in case of confirmed and suspected infections, also in terms of regional and local communication needs.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