Qatar primary school shuts after three students diagnosed with H1N1 flu
An independent (public) school in western Doha has closed for the day after three girls from the same family were diagnosed with the H1N1 flu virus.
The unnamed pupils appeared to attend Omama bint Hamzah Independent Primary School for Girls, which is in Bani Hajer in Al Rayyan according to a tweet by Qatar’s education minister Dr. Mohamed Al Hammadi last night.
H1N1 is known colloquially as “swine flu” and is a contagious influenza virus that spreads from person to person through coughing, sneezing or talking to people.
When it was first diagnosed in Mexico in 2009, it became a pandemic and caused many deaths. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) now considers it to be a regular seasonal flu virus.
In a statement in Arabic, the Supreme Council of Health (SCH) confirmed that three female students, who were from the same family but in different classes at the school, had the H1N1 Influenza A virus.
It said it coordinated with the school to ensure it took appropriate precautions, which included vaccinating administrative and teaching staff and those students who were in contact with the affected girls.
The council added that the school made its own decision to close for a day, without consultation with the SCH.
“In such a situation, it is not recommended to close the school because the type of flu virus, as defined by the World Health Organization, is seasonal.
It should be sufficient to isolate those infected until their symptoms subside, clean surfaces with household disinfectant and vaccinate,” the SCH said.
Qatar’s education minister added that since the cases were identified, the school has been working with Hamad Medical Corp. (HMC) to monitor the situation daily.
Al Hammadi added that the school had taken the “precautionary measure” of closing for a day to clean and disinfect classrooms.
In an attempt to quell panic among some parents who voiced their concern on internet forums last night, the health council added:
“The virus does not constitute and epidemic threat as most of the cases are infected with mild to moderate strains and recover after being vaccinated and receiving the available anti-virus.”
The SCH said it was coordinating with the Supreme Education Council (SEC), which would be sending out advice on precautionary measures to take to avoid the spread of flu in schools and other educational institutes.
What is H1N1?
There are three types of seasonal flu virus – A, B and C – and H1N1 is one of two strains of influenza A that are currently circulating among humans, WHO says.
WHO classifies influenza as “a viral infection that affects mainly the nose, throat, bronchi and, occasionally, lungs. Infection usually lasts for about a week, and is characterized by sudden onset of high fever, aching muscles, headache and severe malaise, non-productive cough, sore throat and rhinitis.”
Influenza A and B are currently included in the seasonal flu vaccine, while the rarer type C is not.
It transmits easily, and can spread rapidly during seasonal epidemics. While the majority of people infected with it recover after a week or two without needing medical treatment, it can be more serious among the elderly, very young and those with other medical conditions.
According to WHO’s latest online influenza update, which was published on Nov. 2 but was based on data from Oct. 18: “western Asia, Bahrain and Qatar reported increased influenza activity, predominantly due to influenza A (H1N1)pdm09.”
Flu in Qatar
Qatar’s seasonal flu season usually starts in October and continues until the end of February, according to Dr. Hamad Eid Al Rumaihi, the Supreme Council of Health’s (SCH) director of health protection and combating infectious disease.
Last week, the government launched a new campaign to encourage residents, particularly those with vulnerable immune systems, to get the flu vaccine.
This year, the SCH has increased the number of available flu vaccines from 70,000 to 105,000 to accommodate more residents,and vaccines will be available until the end of May at numerous public and private clinics across the country.
You can find out more about the flu shot, what it is and where to get it in our quick primer here.
In its statement, the SCH said it monitors flu activity daily including the number of new cases and those who have had follow-up treatment in hospital.
HMC’s national influenza center records the total number of people infected with the virus and the type of virus, the health council added.