A dozen people have died and 62 others have been confirmed as infected with the latest H1N1 swine flu outbreak to hit Myanmar, a senior government health ministry official said Monday.
“According to the latest information we have as of July 31, a total of 213 cases were registered, 62 have been confirmed as being infected with H1N1, and 12 have died of the virus,” said Than Tun Aung, deputy director general of Department of Public Health under the Ministry of Health and Sports.
He also said that the contagious infection has killed mostly middle-aged people.
Than Tun Aung urged the public to protect themselves from the flu by following instructions presented by the government in health awareness campaigns about the virus.
Though health authorities have said flu is a seasonal outbreak, they have published notices in the media urging the public to take precautionary measures by avoiding crowded places, frequently washing their hands, covering their mouths, and using disposable tissues when sneezing and coughing.
The greatest number of infections have occurred in the commercial capital Yangon where residents have been donning surgical masks in the effort to protect themselves from contracting the virus.
Myanmar health authorities have asked the Paris-based World Health Organization, the health agency of the United Nations, for assistance in combating what has quickly become a deadly outbreak of swine flu since the first death was announced more than a week ago.
The health ministry said on Sunday that it does not plan to declare an emergency because of the H1N1 outbreak.
H1N1, which spreads from person to person by inhaling the virus, or by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching one’s mouth or nose, became a global pandemic in 2009. Its flulike symptoms include coughing, fever, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, body aches, headaches, chills, and fatigue.
'Nat' festival cancelled
The H1N1 outbreak prompted health officials in Mandalay region to cancel the start of the country’s largest annual “nat” festival on Monday in Taung Pyone village out of fear that the disease could spread among the hundreds of thousands of attendees from around the country, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
The annual nine-day festival in Taung Pyone village, 15 miles north of Mandalay, is held in honor of two brothers — Min Gyi and Min Lay — who were believed to have become “nats,” spirits worshipped in Myanmar in conjunction with Buddhism, after they were executed by King Anawrahta, the first king of Myanmar who ruled from 1044–1077 and introduced Theravada Buddhism to his subjects.
Myanmar is simultaneously experiencing an outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza flu in the town of Dawei in the country’s southeastern Tanintharyi region, about 370 kilometers (230 miles) southeast of Yangon.
More than 20,000 chickens have been culled in Dawei, and local officials on July 27 ordered all schools closed for five days to prevent the spread of the disease to children.
The highly infectious flu, which was detected on July 16 at a poultry farm in the town’s Wekyunhtainthit ward, causes severe respiratory disease in poultry that can sometimes be transmitted to humans.
Myanmar has seen eight rounds of the H5N1 virus since 2006, and has reported 458 cases of the H1N1 virus since 2009, according to the country’s Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department and health and sports ministry.
Reported by Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.