EDITORIAL: Influenza scare

Though National Influenza Centre has said there is no need to panic, precautionary measures are a must in the wake of flu season

A day after the National Public Health Laboratory, Teku, confirmed that 16 patients from Solukhumbu district tested positive for Hong Kong flu, six more samples from Kalikot tested positive on Wednesday. Hong Kong flu was one of the famous influenza pandemics in history. It was caused by an H3N2 strain of the influenza A virus, descended from H2N2 through antigenic shift. The virus spreads mainly when flu patients cough, sneeze or talk. A person may also contract it by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching mouth, nose or eyes. Earlier, 17 people were reported to have died in Jajarkot due to influenza. According to experts, influenza is seen in the country twice a year — after the rainy season and during winter. The experts also have a word of caution that influenza cases may go up because of an increase in humidity after rainfall. Most parts of the country, including the hilly regions, have witnessed rainfall in the last three days. In recent days, five people were reported to have died due to flu in Kalikot. There were fears that the flu could take epidemic proportions after scores of people fell ill.

Symptoms of Hong Kong flu are similar to those of seasonal flu — cough, fever or feverish feeling, sore throat, runny nose, muscle and body aches, headache and fatigue. Children and the elderly are most vulnerable groups. The National Influenza Centre (NIC), however, has said that there is no need to panic. According to the NIC, the virus has not undergone significant genetic mutation. But one problem that experts point to is there is “no specific medicine” for Hong Kong flu. Hence, people must take precautions. They should avoid crowd, cover mouth and nose while sneezing. Avoiding unnecessary touching of nose and mouth, visiting health centres immediately if they feel feverish or have runny nose are other measures people should take. Heating food and beverages before consuming is also an advice from experts.

That said, there is a need to pay serious attention to flu cases being reported from different parts of the country. Nepal’s health care system is still in such a state that not everyone has an easy access to health facilities. Despite the constitution guaranteeing health as the fundamental right of citizens, people have been losing lives to flu and diarrhoea, largely due to lack of health facilities, medicines and health workers in their vicinity. People are still unable to access health services at an affordable cost. In this context, the concept of universal health coverage becomes even so important in Nepal. Then Parliament in October last year passed a landmark Health Insurance Bill, setting the stage for universal health coverage. It allows everyone to obtain health services they need, when and where they need them, without facing financial hardships. Policy makers now should focus on early implementation of the universal health coverage. Bringing all citizens under the universal health coverage will not only ensure health services to all at an affordable cost but also help prevent unnecessary loss of lives due to preventable diseases like diarrhoea and flu among others.

Keeping skies safe

Almost 75 per cent of Nepal’s airspace will come under radar coverage following the installation of advanced radar system in Bhatte Danda, Lalitpur, located about 10-km south of Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). Japanese International Corporation Agency (JICA) has installed the radar system at an altitude of 2,340 metres at the cost of Rs 922 million. The system will come into operation from February 1. The radar system can scan aeroplanes within a radius of 450 km, up to the Bay of Bengal and various parts beyond the Himalayas.

JICA officials have hoped that the new radar system will help greatly improve air traffic system in the country. The old one installed inside the TIA can scan around 5,000 aircraft. But the new radar system can scan more than 17 million aircraft, according to experts. JICA has been providing support to the country’s civil aviation sector since 1988. The use of the latest technology will not only enable the TIA to get information about precise location of aircraft but also help reduce chances of air crashes. Nepal has recorded the highest number of air crashes recently due to poor surveillance system.