Ministry of Health and Medical Services today announced an outbreak of Viral Respiratory Illnesses (VRI) in Honiara and Malaita.
Minister of Health Dr Culwick Togamana in his special address today said: “Our lab technicians at the National Referral Hospital, have since conducted laboratory tests from swab samples collected from patients and discovered multiple respiratory viruses with Rhinovirus and influenza H3 predominating, as the main drivers of the outbreak. These are viruses that cause common cold or flu-like illnesses that we are experiencing today. COVID-19 tests performed on the same samples returned negative test results.”
He these viruses are common cause of flu and cold and usually the symptoms are self-limiting. Small kids especially those with other illnesses such as respiratory diseases and heart disease and adults who are old or have other disease such as obesity, diabetes, respiratory or heart disease may have severe disease requiring hospitalization.
Togamana stated that the week, July 25 to 30th, our National Public Health Surveillance Unit have picked up an increase in the number of cases of Influenza or flu-like illnesses mainly in Honiara and Malaita. Total of 234 flu like cases were recorded in these provinces during this period.
He added that the following week, 1st of August to the 7th of August 2022, the number of cases recorded increased from 234 to 803, an increase of 243 percent (%). This is derived from significant increases recorded at the sentinel sites or health facilities tasked to monitor and report diseases.
In Malaita Province, Atoifi hospital recorded an increase of 223 % and Auki clinic 363%. In Honiara, our National Referral Hospital (NRH) recorded an increase of 264%, Kukum clinic, 113% and Rove clinic 387%.
In terms of admissions at our National Referral Hospital Emergency Department (ED) in the past 24 hours, 72 percent of total ED admissions are respiratory patients, 68 adults and 26 children. Our doctors including paediatricians are working hard to provide treatment and care to the 5 paediatric inpatients admitted with flu-like symptoms.
Initially, most of the cases presenting to health facilities were babies and children. Now we are also seeing influx of adults also presenting with flu like illnesses. Symptoms include;
- Flu or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
- Headache; and
- Shortness of breath or shortwin as commonly known
Togamana said despite the outbreak only reported in Honiara and Malaita Provinces, there is high chance or risk that it will spread to all other Provinces due to ongoing inter-island travels.
Public Health measures
The minister said therefore, it is in the interest of each and every one of “us across the country to be on a heightened state of alertness, of this Viral Respiratory Illness (VRI) that is circulating in our communities.”
The current health advisory for this outbreak is to once again practiced and practice constantly the following public health measures, as we did for COVID-19.
- Wearing of masks in public places such as along the streets, at the markets, inside of stores, and when traveling by public transport, buses and taxis.
- Constantly practice hand washing with soap or hand sanitizer
- Maintain social distance of at least a meter from another person as much as possible.
- Avoid public or large gatherings
- Avoid visitation to families and friends in another household
- Maintain personal hygiene at all times.
Togamana said to those experiencing these flu-like symptoms, drink plenty of warm water and take Panadol, if fever persists and for babies and children please consult our doctors at your nearest health clinic. Rest well and eat plenty of vegetables and fruits.
It is also important that malaria is ruled out by getting tested at your nearest clinic or private clinic once you develop fever.
“Parents and guardians, I have also been advised by our paediatricians at NRH to inform you all to pay close attention to your babies and children. Should you notice shortness of breath or fast breathing or even if you have a slight worry for your baby or child don’t hesitate but quickly take them to the nearest clinic.
“Keep your children at home and away from school if they are experiencing flu, cough, and fever. Get them tested for Malaria to rule out Malaria and care for them at home. Symptoms should subside after 3 to 4 days. If symptoms persist beyond 5 days get them to the nearest clinic,” he said.
“For those with asthma, heart diseases etc. your health and life are at great risk from this flu outbreak therefore urgently seek medical attention at your nearest clinic if you develop flu symptoms.
The public is also advised to not acquire or purchase over-the-counter antibiotics such as amoxicillin or any other medical drugs to treat the current flu. Antibiotics are not to treat viral infections and are of no use in the current outbreak.
Any antibiotics or medical drugs acquired or purchased must be done with prescriptions from the doctor,” the minister said.
Togamana said in response to the outbreak in Honiara and Malaita, the Ministry of Health has activated its National Health Emergency Arrangements to manage and coordinate the response to the current outbreak.
In doing, so we will be:
- Enhancing our surveillance of the outbreak across the country to monitor the spread.
- We are assessing and strengthening further Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) measures across our health facilities to mitigate spread. of the virus in health facilities.
- Our Health Promotion Department will be disseminating important messages through various mediums, print, radio, social media platforms, and roll out community awareness alongside other health programs including in health facilities for a wider reach of the public.
National Referral Hospital
NRH is experiencing influx of patients with flu and is working hard to manage the situation at its Emergency Department. As part of its response, the hospital services will enter into emergency mode for time being to allow proper prepositioning of the response. Patients and public will be expected to be screened and triage at front of the Emergency Department. Additional space will be created at the Referral Clinic side as an extension of the respiratory unit for patients (children and adult) for their acute assessment and treatment before deciding on any admissions to the wards. All referrals will be managed at a makeshift referral clinic by each department at their wards. All department doctors will allocate 24 hours review team to the emergency department.
Clinical support departments such as x-ray and medical laboratory, will be stationed to the ED extended section at the Referral Clinic side as part of their on-call duties.
IPC guidelines will be strictly abided to, hence public or visitors will be limited as much as possible.
“ I urge all Honiara residents sick with the flu and seeking medical attention to first present yourselves at your nearest Honiara City Council clinic and only go to the NRH if doctors at HCC refers you to NRH. We understand the issue of HCC clinics closed at night and therefore we will look at possibilities to extend opening number of these clinics later into the night. This is to relieve pressure at our referral hospital,” he said.