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WHO against school closure to curb swine flu spread
New Delhi, Aug 18 (IANS):
Published on 19 Aug. 2009 12:40 AM IST
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Asking sick students to remain at home is more effective than closing schools to curb the swine flu spread, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official said here Tuesday and urged authorities to bring in a behavioural change to fight influenza A(H1N1). “Experience has shown that in general, identifying sick students and keeping them at home is more beneficial than school closures. To prevent the spread of this virus, practices such as frequent hand-washing and covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing should be promoted,” Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO regional director for Southeast Asia, told media persons. “Surgical face mask use is recommended for patients and health care workers only. Specialized masks (N95 or higher) are indicated only for a few categories of health professionals and not for the general public,” he added. The comments have come at a time when scores of schools in several parts of India, mainly in Maharashtra and Delhi, have closed down fully or partially for a while to avoid spread of the disease. Nearly 2,000 people have been infected with the infectious virus in India of which at least 25 people have died in the country. Plianbangchang said that the countries in the region have been “preparing for pandemic influenza for years and that preparedness could help them with the current pandemic”. He also appreciated that all countries in the region maintained stocks of antiviral drugs according to their projected needs. “WHO is assisting member states in strengthening surveillance, laboratory capacity, antiviral and vaccine production and distribution, and information for the public. We continue to monitor the severity of this virus closely,” he added. The world health watchdog has transferred technology and development funds to vaccine manufacturers in the region, such as the Serum Institute of India, Biopharma (Indonesia) and GPO (Thailand). These manufacturers will have a collective capacity of about 220 million doses annually, with a surge capacity that could reach 420 million pandemic (H1N1) 2009 vaccine doses annually. The UN agency said the national Tamiflu stockpiling varies - for instance, India has virtual stocks and agreements with producers. Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand share a common stockpile as well as their national stockpiles. Other countries in the region maintain a stock that is procured or donated through WHO. WHO said once community transmission is established, it does not recommend laboratory testing of all suspected cases. “Laboratory testing priorities in such communities should shift to testing severe cases only. Also laboratory services should be utilised to monitor resistance of the virus to Tamiflu and any genetic changes.”

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