S'pore hospitals prepared for bird flu virus

SINGAPORE - We are prepared if it spreads here, said three local hospitals about the newly-discovered bird flu virus in China.

The H7N9 virus has so far infected 28 people, and nine of them have died from it in Shanghai, Jiangsu, Anhui and Zhejiang

"We remain vigilant and will be screening patients with flu-like symptoms with a history of travel to affected areas in China," said Associate Professor Ng Kee Chong, chairman of the Division of Medicine at KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

"Returning travellers from areas reporting H7N9 cases should monitor their health and seek immediate medical attention should they develop symptoms of respiratory illness such as fever, cough and/or breathlessness," said Dr Sim Tiong Beng, a consultant at the Emergency Medicine Department at National University Hospital (NUH).

Changi General Hospital (CGH) screens patients who have fever and/or flu-like symptoms for their travel history.

Those who have been to China in the last 10 days will be isolated and attended to separately.

They stepped up surveillance since last Friday, in light of the H7N9 cases in China.

So far, no one has been isolated at the three hospitals.

Several contingency plans and reactionary measures have been in place since Sars and this has better prepared the hospitals for any possible epidemic outbreaks.

"CGH has a temperature screening counter at its A&E main entrance. Those with a higher than normal temperature will be given a surgical mask and led to a designated 'fever zone' where they will be monitored," said Professor Teo Eng Kiong, chairman of CGH's Medical Board.

"We have a ward that can be converted into an isolation ward in times of need," he added.

CGH also limits and monitors visitors to ICUs. This reduces the risk of infectious diseases spreading and allows visitors to be traced when needed.

NUH said policies are now in place for isolation, laboratory safety and use of Personal Protective Equipment, while KKH said it has ongoing education on hand hygiene and personal protective equipment for all staff, and also an infection control microsite on the hospital's Intranet.

"We are monitoring the situation and will work closely with the Ministry of Health to implement precautionary measures when needed."

The Singapore Airlines (SIA) also said that they are "closely monitoring the situation".

Mr Nicholas Ionides, Vice President of SIA's Public Affairs, said:

"We have not seen a noticeable change in demand for travel to China.

"We are, however, well prepared to work with public health authorities if the need arises," he said.

The Health Ministry has issued an advisory on their website last Saturday, providing details and precautionary measures.

S'poreans in Shanghai

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it has forwarded the information to Singaporeans in Shanghai who are registered with them.

Both SIA and Changi Airport Group said they are monitoring the situation and will work with public health authorities if the need arises.

However, the pharmacies do not brush off the threat of the virus.

Said the Guardian Health & Beauty checked spokesman: "Identifying H7N9 flu is not possible during consultation,

"However our pharmacist will have to be vigilant and ask the customers for more details like if they have been travelling to the affected countries or came in contact with any birds or fowls recently and if they have, to consult a doctor immediately."

A Watsons pharmacist added that pharmacists should also provide advice to travellers, such as "(avoiding) direct contact with poultry, birds or their droppings, and if contact is made, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water."

Some manufactures for items such as masks and thermometers have seen an increase in demand for the items.

Said a spokesman of 3M Singapore checked: "In the light of current H7N9 situation in China, there has been an increase of enquiries for our 3M N95 disposable respirators (masks) designed for public use,

"This could be due to the public's awareness of using 3M N95 respirators for self-protection stemming from the experiences with the SARS and H1N1 flu pandemics."

However, Importers Smitech (Asia) and Futron Electronics said that they have not seen an increase in thermometer sales.

"Presumably, Singaporeans have thermometers purchased from the past H1N1 or SARS periods," said Mr Christopher Koh, Managing Director of Smitech (Asia).

Mr Koh also said that they have about 5,000 digital thermometers and about 200 infrared thermometers in case of an emergency.

Likewise, Mr James Lee, Managing Director of Futron Electronics, said that they have at least 10,000 digital thermometers and 500 infrared thermometers in stock.

A Ministry of Education spokesman also said, "The Ministry of Health (MOH) is closely monitoring the influenza A (H7N9) situation in China. We will work together with other agencies to institute appropriate control measures as the situation evolves."

Mr Nicholas Ionides, vice-president of Singapore Airlines's (SIA) public affairs, said on Monday that they "have not seen a noticeable change in demand for travel to China".

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) has said that no poultry from China has been allowed since 2004 due to outbreaks of bird flu.

AVA also regularly monitors and samples imported poultry and eggs at points of entry to ensure that they are safe for consumption.

A spokesman for Guardian Health & Beauty said the pharmacy has been stocking up on masks and hand sanitisers.

"We want to make sure that we have enough stock on hand, just in case there is a surge in demand," the spokesman said.

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