Malaysia expects pollution haze to boost number of Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 cases
Malaysia has experienced its worst haze so far this year this week, as smoke from forest fires caused high levels of pollution in six areas of the country. Media reports quoted the Health Minister as saying that the haze would result in a higher case-load of Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 unless preventive measures were taken.
The Minister said the combination of the virus and higher pollution levels could be problematic for people with respiratory illnesses such as asthma, as Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 can attack the lungs and cause chronic pneumonia and sometimes death. Malaysia has reported 11 deaths associated with the virus.
Asthmatics are one of several groups of people who may be at higher risk of serious complications from Pandemic (H1N1) 2009. Other high-risk groups are pregnant women, and people with cardiac disease, diabetes, chronic metabolic or renal diseases, immunosuppressive disorders such as cancer, or chronic neurological conditions.
Taiwan (China), which last week reported its first death related to the virus, said there had been 15 clusters of Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 detected since 1 July. A cluster is generally defined in epidemiology as an aggregation of cases of a disease or another health-related condition which are closely grouped in time and place.
The Central Epidemic Command Centre in Taiwan (China) said the increase in cases was due to a high transmission rate and increased community awareness of Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 which led to more frequent hospital visits and tests. It urged people to seek immediate medical attention if they experienced symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain, high and prolonged fever, or blood in their phlegm.
Countries, territories and areas in the Western Pacific Region have reported 119 fatalities associated with Pandemic (H1N1) 2009. Australia has reported 74 such fatalities, more than half of them in the most populous states of New South Wales and Victoria. New Zealand has reported 15 fatalities, though health authorities in that country have seen a decrease over recent days in the number of people visiting medical specialists with influenza-like illnesses.
New Zealand's Deputy Director of Public Health Dr Fran McGrath said people at high-risk of severe complications from Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 should seek medical advice early if they experience influenza-like symptoms.
Several countries in the Western Pacific Region have shifted from containment to a mitigation phase in response to Pandemic (H1N1) 2009, and are no longer testing all suspected cases nor reporting new confirmed cases daily. As a result, the actual number of infections in the Region is likely to be higher than official WHO figures.