x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Study shows how pandemic hit UAE

109 women and 246 men were diagnosed with the H1N1 virus in the capital between May and August 2009. None of the infected died.

ABU DHABI // More than 350 people in Abu Dhabi were found to have the H1N1 swine-flu virus during the 2009 global pandemic.

Of the 1,379 suspected cases recorded across Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the Western Region between May and August that year, 356 people - 109 women and 247 men - were diagnosed with swine flu. None died.

At the time there were an estimated two million people in the capital, 79 per cent of whom were expatriates. The highest number of cases were reported in the middle of July.

The figures have been revealed in a study carried out by the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (Haad) for the period between May and August 2009, and released in the 18th volume of the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal.

The first cases of swine flu worldwide were recorded in Mexico in March 2009. Months after, the World Health Organisation (Who) declared a global pandemic, with 74 countries reporting cases in June that year.

A man, 48, was the first person to be diagnosed in Abu Dhabi several days after returning from a trip to Canada, and a month before the official Who declaration.

"He presented to the hospital with symptoms of fever and sore throat two days after arrival," the study said. "The patient was admitted and given anti-viral treatment. The patient was confirmed to have H1N1 on May 20, 2009.

"He had a history of contact with two relatives who were also interviewed and advised to stay home for seven days."

All suspected cases were kept in isolation at hospital and given a course of anti-viral drugs.

With several countries reporting tens of thousands of cases - the US alone diagnosed 38,000 people with swine flu by July 2009 - the relatively low figures recorded in the UAE could be attributed to an old surveillance system, said Dr Al Mannaei.

"In 2009, we were developing an electronic system for notification and reporting of infectious diseases," she said. "That system was not yet live so there was a gap in reporting."

Despite some weaknesses in the old manual system, which was replaced in December 2009, Abu Dhabi and its surrounding areas dealt with the outbreak effectively, said Dr Al Mannaei.

"There were no ongoing standards for surveillance, however the response was immediate and reactive," she said.

With the electronic surveillance system in place, the emirate is equipped to handle any future pandemics, said Dr Mohamed Hamad, the infection control chief at Lifeline Hospital Abu Dhabi.

"There was a significant improvement because the health authority released Who guidelines, and they have asked all the hospitals and healthcare facilities to create policy and awareness sessions to educate staff, patients and visitors to the hospital," Dr Hamad said.

"From my experience and my observations, the number of cases has dropped."

With the National Influenza Centre based at Sharjah's Al Qassimi Hospital, surveillance of infectious disease is more efficient, said Dr Mansour Al Zarouni, the head of laboratories in Sharjah at the Ministry of Health.

For Haad, the pandemic resulted in a better system.

"We are more able to be actively reactive to infection," said Dr Al Mannaei. "The pandemic gave us the experience to know how to deal with this scale of biological disaster."

zalhassani@thenational.ae