Pages

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Khaw: Play safe, assume the worst

SWINE FLU ALERT
Neo Chai Chin, chaichin@mediacorp.com.sg

His ministry is working "round the clock" to stay abreast of swine flu developments around the world. And Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday sounded a reassuring note, saying the nation is in a better position to deal with a global pandemic compared to six years ago when Sars hit.

Back then, 33 people here died from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Since then, progress has been made in laboratory capabilities and as well as alertness levels at hospitals and airports.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) is also looking at restricting the number of visitors for hospital patients — if developments over the next two days warrants it.
"As a general principal, if you don't have to visit hospitals, don't visit because it's not exactly a clean place. Why expose yourself unnecessarily?" said Mr Khaw.

Those who need to visit loved ones should maintain a high level of personal hygiene including frequent hand-washing.

Singapore also has a stockpile of Tamiflu — one of the antiviral drugs found to be effective against the swine flu virus — as well as personal protective equipment for hospital staff, he said.

MOH is likely to request hospital staff working in high-risk areas such as accident and emergency (A&E) wards and intensive care units to wear the personal protective equipment.

At least one hospital has already taken the initiative. Since Saturday, National University Hospital staff at the A&E temperature screening area have put on protective gowns in addition to the face mask routinely worn.

NUH and the Singapore General Hospital said patients are also asked about their travel histories. "Patients ... with travel history to Mexico, USA and Canada will be asked to alert our staff. Visitors with travel history and who are feeling unwell are advised not to visit patients, and to seek medical attention," said SGH chief executive Prof Ang Chong Lye.

Indeed, disclosure of travel history becomes "very important", said Mr Khaw, given how swine flu symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat are similar to that of regular flu.

And while the swine flu outbreak could be "just a very localised" one that will "eventually burn itself out", Mr Khaw said Singapore will "play safe and assume the worst."

From TODAY, News – Monday, 27-April-2009