Muscat: A pregnant woman in Salalah has become the sixth victim of the H1N1 virus whose rapid spread in the cooler climate of Oman's southern region is becoming a cause for concern for authorities.
"Any death is alarming and a reason for concern but this was expected as H1N1 spreads faster in cooler climate," Dr Ahmad Bin Mohammad Al Saeed, Undersecretary for Health Affairs, told Gulf News yesterday in an exclusive interview.
He forecast a higher death rate in the country's southern region and said there would be more fatalities and complications associated with swine flu as the virus continues to spread.
The top health official also agreed that the fatality rate in the Dhofar region, which is celebrating the Khareef Festival, was high.
"The number of cases, so far, in the southern region is very high in proportion to the population in the region," he said.
Al Saeed said he believed that the high influx of tourists in the area was a contributing factor.
"More than a quarter [of a] million tourists have visited Dhofar region in last two months and that has had its impact in the spread of H1N1," he said.
Al Saeed also said he believed that increased social activities during the cooler climate were another factor aiding the rapid spread of the disease in the southern region.
"There are cultural events as well as weddings during this season, which bring large gatherings under one roof, spreading the disease faster," he said. The senior health official reckons that the number of H1N1 cases in Dhofar region in the country's south will increase as the weather gets cooler. He blamed the late admission to hospitals of infected patients. "So far one common factor among fatal cases in Dhofar seems to be major delay in [being admitted] to the hospital," he added.
Al Saeed also stressed that half of all H1N1 fatalities in Oman, so far, had had co-factor diseases.
"A 39-year-old died after acquiring H1N1 virus but he also had cardiomyopathy, which is the deterioration of the function of the myocardium, the actual heart muscle, for any reason," he said.
He added that heart, lung and liver infections, as well as complications relating to pregnancies were contributors that could worsen the state of a patient infected with the H1N1 virus.
He also brushed aside fears of new mutation that has allegedly manifested itself among H1N1 patients in the southern region.
"There has been no scientific proof that the H1N1 virus has changed, neither in Oman nor elsewhere in the world."
Al Saeed also pointed out that there was no resistance to Tamiflu in Oman. "It is an effective medicine, so far, if it's given early enough," he said. Owing to the fact that the H1N1 virus is spreading faster and fatalities are increasing in the southern region, Al Saeed said that "As it is now adopted worldwide, in Oman also, H1N1 tests will be carried only for the admitted patients. Patients... would be treated on clinical grounds at private as well as government clinics," he said.
He stressed that the treatment for H1N1 virus at government hospitals was free of charge for every resident of the country.
Al Saeed also ruled out the setting up of a laboratory in Salalah to test H1N1. "A lab cannot be setup overnight, it needs lots of preparations, equipment and a long time," he said but admitted that the health authorities in the country were learning fast. "We are rethinking and strategising," he said.
Al Saidi urged residents of the country to stay away from prayers during Ramadan if they have symptoms which include a cold, cough, or fever.
By Sunil K. Vaidya, Bureau Chief
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