The number of people in Lebanon diagnosed with the A(H1N1) virus has risen to 600, Health Minister Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh said on Wednesday, adding the real number of cases was probably much higher. The real figure was likely closer to 2,000-3,000 but had not been diagnosed “because not everybody gets a laboratory test,” Khalifeh told reporters after a meeting with Education Minister Bahia Hariri to discuss swine flu prevention in schools.
The minister said schools would still open as planned this fall, with teachers receiving training on general health and flu symptoms.
“It is not possible to delay or cancel school terms and no one in the world has taken these measures,” Khalifeh said, although Kuwait on Tuesday decided to delay the opening of foreign schools by two weeks until September 13. “This is a disease we live with, like all countries,” he added.
Khalifeh said the Health Ministry had joined with officials from the World Health Organization and doctors across the country to monitor and respond to any outbreak of the virus in schools. Maternity units would also be monitored, he said, adding health officials were not anticipating a major national outbreak.
Rather than examining students during the first semester, school doctors will instead check students on their first day back, Hariri said.
When asked about a state of panic among parents, Khalifeh said fear of swine flu was “exaggerated” in Lebanon. “The issue doesn’t stir up chaos in other countries such as the US, France or Britain,” Khalifeh said, adding Lebanon would “take all the necessary precautions without having to bring the country to a halt.”
The Health Ministry has previously warned against swine flu hysteria, saying most patients with swine flu fully recovered without requiring treatment or hospitalization. Khalifeh has nonetheless advised the Lebanese to uphold rigorous standards of hygiene, to avoid greeting each other with the traditional three kisses, and to wash hands frequently. “We hope that no child will be sent to school if they show flu symptoms,” Hariri said.
Khalifeh said that while other countries in the world had ceased to conduct laboratory tests for swine flu, Lebanon was continuing “for statistical purposes.” No further deaths from the virus have been reported after a young man died on July 30. Elias Antoine Nihmatallah, 20, from Sighar village in Batroun, was Lebanon’s first swine flu victim, but already suffered from poor health as a result of Lymphoma cancer.
In July, Khalifeh said swine flu vaccinations were expected to arrive in Lebanon by November or December, when the minister believes dropping temperatures will lead to a spike in infections. Health experts have also said the virus could mutate as winter and the ordinary flu season begin. So far, however, no mutation has taken place, Khalifeh said.
Over half of all swine flu fatalities worldwide have been among young adults, a survey published by Eurosurveillance, the monitoring arm of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, found this week. The study of 574 virus deaths in 28 countries also deduced that obesity or diabetes further increased likelihood of death.
“Most deaths [51 percent] occurred in the age group of 20 to 49 year olds, but there is considerable variation depending on country or continent,” the survey said, adding that children and the elderly were not as vulnerable to the disease as originally reported.
Swine flu has killed over 1,800 people out of 182,166 diagnosed infections in 177 countries and territories worldwide, the World Health Organization said in its last update on August 21.
The UN agency declared the virus a pandemic in June. Lebanon reported its first three swine flu cases on May. The Health and Education Ministries will meet again next Monday to follow up on swine flu prevention measures in schools.