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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Severe flu season leads to hospitalisations across the UAE

The number of influenza, pneumonia, and swine flu cases have been particularly bad this year, with people admitted to intensive care and needing to be put on ventilators 

Samira Tahat's husband is one of many in the UAE who caught the flu this season and required hospitalisation after ignoring seeking medical help. Antonie Robertson / The National.
Samira Tahat's husband is one of many in the UAE who caught the flu this season and required hospitalisation after ignoring seeking medical help. Antonie Robertson / The National.

Doctors have noted a significant increase in cases of pneumonia and influenza in Abu Dhabi, and many patients have been diagnosed with swine flu.

Dr Trilok Chand, a specialist in respiratory medicine at Burjeel Hospital, said the number of cases had doubled compared to last year, and he is now seeing about five people each day.

He said most patients had mild cases that could be managed at home, but severe cases were on the rise.

Doctors were confident they had not yet seen any cases of the potentially deadly H3N2 flu strain, nicknamed the Australian flu, but had seen an increase in the number of people infected with strains A and B. The number of H1N1 – or swine flu – cases was high.

Dr Chand said he had treated at least 15 cases of H1N1 since late December.

Three people were “seriously infected”, admitted to intensive care and put on ventilators for two weeks before recovering. While it was not uncommon for the number of people getting sick to increase this time of year, the cases were more severe and more frequent, Dr Chand said.

“The reason is due to the change of weather conditions and the temperature,” he said.

People coming back from holidays also brought infections from overseas with them.

Samira Tahat’s husband and son both caught the flu, which they were determined to see out at home. But her husband’s condition worsened, it became clear this was no mild case.

“His symptoms continued.

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“He suffered from high fever, sore throat, breathing problems and was feeling too weak,” she said. Mrs Tahat took him to hospital, where he quickly recovered.

Dr Chand pinpointed children, the elderly and other vulnerable people as the most susceptible to infections.

“Parents should be careful of symptoms and keep children at home, and listen to advice from doctors. If one child is sick they can spread the infection throughout all the schools,” Dr Chand said.

Jumana Yousef, a supervisor at Al Shola Private School in Sharjah, said she had seen an increase in the number of children suffering from influenza-like symptoms this winter.

“There has been a significant rise in the number of children getting the flu with the winter starting early this year. Flu is highly contagious among schoolkids, especially sharing close quarters like they do in classrooms,” she said.

She fell ill after her son and daughter caught the flu. Their symptoms included chills, a high fever and breathing problems. She advised parents to keep their children at home if they were feeling ill.

Dr Dinesh Banur, paediatrician at NMC Royal Hospital, also noted a large increase in H1N1 cases, but believed the worst of the outbreak had passed.

“Many children were sick and needed to be hospitalised,” Dr Banur said.

He said there were several factors involved, including the population mix of the country, living in a crowded place where transmission was easy, and the reliance on air conditioning and ventilation.

“Handwashing prevents the spread of the flu. We should also educate people about coughing etiquette so the virus does not spread, and tell them to avoid going to crowded places,” Dr Banur said.

He urged people to consider getting the flu vaccination as the most efficient preventive measure against influenza.

The UAE had a low uptake of the vaccine because it was not part of the mandatory vaccination programme, he said.