Press statement on South Africa's response to the Swine Influenza pandemic
This statement follows on the statement that the Department of Health released yesterday on our response to the swine flu outbreak that started in Mexico and has since spread to a number of countries. As you know the World Health Organisation has upgraded the status of the epidemic from phase 3 to phase 4. This means that there is now human to human transmission of the influenza. In addition there is now evidence of local transmission of the virus in the community in Mexico and the US at this stage.
According to the World Health Organisation cases of swine flu have been confirmed, using laboratory diagnosis and as of 27 April the following cases have been reported: Mexico 26 cases with 7 deaths; the US 40 cases with no deaths; Canada 6 cases with no deaths; Spain 1 case with no deaths. There are a large number of suspected cases in these countries as well as in others. What we are reporting on are confirmed cases.
To date, there are no confirmed human cases in South Africa. In addition, the Department of Agriculture has informed us that there have been no cases of swine flu in pigs in South Africa or the region. The most recent case was reported in Kenya in the 1950s. We would also like to reassure you that the consumption of pig meat/products is perfectly safe. As with all prepared food stuffs we need to ensure that pork meat is well cooked.
In 2007 the Department released its National Influenza preparedness plan in which we detailed the structures, processes and activities that will be activated in the event of an outbreak. The plan also outlines the roles and responsibilities of a number of stakeholders.
This plan has been activated and we shall outline some of the key activities that we have in place to deal with any outbreak. The plan is operational in all provinces. This means that all provinces have functional provincial and district outbreak response teams. Their roles include monitoring communicable diseases within provinces, investigating suspected cases and responding to each case.
The National Department of Health and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) prepared guidelines for case identification, collection of specimen and handling and management of cases. This information has been sent to provincial communicable disease co-ordinators, a network of clinicians in the private sector as well as through professional associations such as the South African Medical Association. We need to ensure that all medical professionals can recognize the symptoms of swine influenza, know what specimen to take and how to handle it and finally how to manage patients clinically.
To recall our previous press statement, the symptoms of swine influenza are: fever; body aches; runny nose; sore throat, nausea, and vomiting/diarrhoea. Anyone with these symptoms, especially with recent history of travel to affected countries should consult their nearest health facility.
This morning the national Department of Health convened an urgent multisectoral meeting to review our status of preparedness and to strengthen our response. Delegates from the following organizations attended this meeting: National Institute of Communicable Diseases, Department of Agriculture, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Home Affairs, Gauteng Provincial Department of Health, World Health Organisation, Centres for Disease Control (SA), UN OCHA, UNICEF.
At this meeting the following decisions were taken:
- The NDOH will convene weekly meetings of the multi-sectoral committee; the next meeting is scheduled for 4 May; and will be responsible for co-ordination of all efforts at a national level
- NICD and the Department of Health will ensure that all health professionals are able to diagnose and treat any cases of swine flu
- With regard to risk assessment, it was agreed that the risk of contracting swine flu from pigs or eating pig products is very low; the highest risk is from imported human cases through international travel. This means that extra vigilance is needed at ports of entry
- It was agreed that regular status reports will be issued and media briefings hosted by the National Department of Health as the situation changes; in addition information will be prepared for sharing at community level – it is important to take the usual precautions as with any airborne infection and to wash hands regularly
- A detailed action plan will be developed and used to guide our interventions and will be used to monitor progress at the weekly multi-sectoral meetings referred to above.
The following key areas with respect to strengthening port health services were discussed and will be included in the action plan:
- Alerting civil aviation authorities, including airline companies, port health services, immigration authorities and security services at ports of entry
- Provide information leaflets especially to incoming travelers and to ensure that any suspected case is identified and appropriately managed
- Strengthen the infrastructure to appropriate manage and refer suspected cases.
Whilst we have not confirmed cases we are prepared for any eventuality, including treating cases. In line with the WHO we are not proposing any travel restrictions. However, we urge anyone who is ill not to travel either to South Africa or from South Africa.