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15 May 2009

SBMA urges community support on Influenza A (H1N1) prevention program

Amid growing concerns on the spread of swine flu in several areas abroad, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) conducted a public awareness community forum on this newest threat on public health and safety.

SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza said the forum is the first step towards raising awareness and preventing the spread of the disease and its devastating socio-economic consequences.

“It is important for the entire community to understand how to prevent the spread of this disease, mainly because it poses a major health risk for all of us and also because it could have a devastating effect on businesses and eventually the economy,” Arreza said as he opened the forum.

Citing the experience of Mexico, where the swine flu outbreak began and more than a thousand confirmed cases have been reported to date, Arreza said, “Hotels, restaurants and other public establishments in Mexico had to be shutdown to prevent further spread of the disease.”

“We don’t want that to happen in Subic Bay,” he stressed.

Around 1,500 participants composed of employees, business locators, and residents of Subic and nearby communities joined the forum wherein SBMA health practitioners and other experts fielded questions from the public.

The panelists included Dr. Solomon Jacalne, manager of the SBMA Public Health and Safety Department; Dr. Joseph Macaraeg, assistant medical officer of the Subic Quarantine Station; Dr. Irene Canlas, officer in charge of the Department of Health’s (DoH) Regional Epidemiology Surveillance Unit (RESU); and Leni Carreon, a health education promotion officer (HEPO).

“This is a very important undertaking because of the growing global health concerns and the fact that the Subic Freeport is not only a tourist destination but also a port of entry with its own seaport and airport,” said Knette Fernando, SBMA deputy administrator for corporate communications, who coordinated the event.

“Although we may get some information from the media, including the Internet, it’s really necessary for us to discuss these health concerns and be educated about the Influenza A (H1N1) flu virus so we’d know what to do and not to do,” Fernando explained.

She added that Arreza, in support of directives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the DoH, has ordered the SBMA Health and Safety Group to formulate an SBMA Influenza A (H1N1) Contingency Plan for the Subic Bay Freeport.

In the recent forum, SBMA health experts said it is important for the Subic community to be aware and supportive of a common action plan that involves four components: information dissemination, coordination with health agencies, screening at points of entry and exit, and enhanced disease surveillance.

The experts added that as of May 11, WHO data confirmed more than 4,694 cases of Influenza A (H1N1) flu in 30 countries and 61 deaths.

In the Philippines, they added, there are only 10 probable cases reported that are currently being monitored, and no case of death has been reported.

“That does not mean that we can disregard taking precautionary measures to avoid getting infected,” Canlas warned.

Canlas said the Influenza A (H1N1) virus was developed in pigs, which served as the mixing vessel before the virus was passed on to humans, who could pass them on to others by sneezing and coughing.

She added the Subic community should be aware of probable cases of Influenza A (H1N1) with patients who have a history of travel to countries with confirmed cases or a history of exposure to people with history of travel to countries with confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, Jacalne explained that the Influenza A (H1N1) flu virus is also called “quadruple reassortant” virus because it is a combination of two strains of swine flu, avian flu and the human flu.

He, however, stressed that one cannot be infected with the Influenza A (H1N1) flu virus from eating pork or working with pork products, as long as pork meat is cooked well, leaving no pink parts.

Aside from this, Jacalne recommended three major preventive measures to avoid the virus: (1) thorough hand-washing – a person could be infected by touching surfaces that a virus carrier touched; (2) social distancing – as much as possible, avoid crowds, or at least maintain a three-feet distance from other people; and (3) cough etiquette – cover mouth when sneezing or coughing to minimize the spread of the virus.

Panelists also advised forum participants to report suspected cases where fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes, diarrhea and vomiting, are present.

According to health experts in the forum, vaccine for the Influenza A (H1N1) flu is still in the development stage, and that even vaccines for seasonal flu cannot prevent Influenza A (H1N1) flu.

“The best prevention, therefore, is knowledge,” SBMA Chairman Feliciano Salonga counseled everyone, as he reiterated SBMA’s appeal for cooperation among members of the Subic Bay community. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

PHOTO: SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza urges participants in a community forum on swine flu to cooperate with health authorities in monitoring the disease and taking preventive measures.

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