Number of infected to rise

(NST) – The spread of influenza A (H1N1) can no longer be contained.

In acknowledging this yesterday, director-general of Health Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said all the isolation wards and beds in intensive care units (ICU) in government and private hospitals were full.

"We also have many who are in critical condition in ICUs. Almost all are down with pneumonia and this is truly worrying," he told the New Sunday Times.

Malaysians exhibiting symptoms of H1N1 are flooding government and private hospitals and clinics every day.

Doctors, nurses and allied healthcare providers are working round the clock to clear patients.


Many are sent home with medication and told to quarantine themselves and monitor their health.

Should their condition worsen, they must go immediately to the nearest hospital.

"The death rate is going to soar, especially among people in the high-risk group and those with co-morbid conditions."

Dr Ismail attributed the rapid spread to the highly contagious nature of the virus, and the public not heeding the advice of health authorities.

He said many people displaying flu symptoms were going to work and moving in crowds without face masks.

"People are also not washing their hands regularly or adhering to the 10 steps of self-quarantine when ill."

A check at Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital in Klang, Sungai Buloh Hospital and Kuala Lumpur Hospital showed hundreds already waiting to be checked even before 8am. Doctors said the number would rise to thousands by noon.

Dr Ismail said a health clinic in Gombak which normally sees 150 patients a day now had more than 950 and a clinic in Putrajaya had some 1,000 patients.

The vulnerable groups — those with underlying diseases, pregnant women, the obese, diabetics and those with hypertension, heart problems, asthma and upper-respiratory tract infections — must go to hospital within 48 hours of showing symptoms.

Dr Ismail said throat swabs would only be taken from those admitted to hospitals.

"Throat swabs need not be taken for everyone. No more throat swabs under the mitigation phase for those seeking outpatient treatment."

He said the Institute for Medical Research and other two laboratories in Sungai Buloh and Kota Kinabalu were handling 300-500 swabs a day.

"Most of the throat swabs are sent by private hospitals and some 90 per cent of them were negative for the disease."

Dr Ismail said seven hospitals would soon be equipped with laboratory facilities to test throat swabs for H1N1. They are the major government hospitals in Penang, Johor, Kuching, Kota Baru, Ipoh and Kuantan.

At present throat swabs are sent to the Institute for Medical Research and laboratories in Sungai Buloh and Kota Kinabalu.

The H1N1 drug situation is another thing that worries Dr Ismail.

He said doctors must realise that Malaysia was sharing the supply of Tamiflu and Relenza with the rest of the world and it might be difficult to get replenishments.

Dr Ismail urged all doctors to dispense the drugs prudently.

"There will be pressure from the people but doctors should exercise their professional judgment and, if a patient is not given the drug, an explanation should be given."