The number of deaths in Tunisia in the first three months of 2016 from the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, has risen to six. There were eight total H1N1 deaths in all of 2015. Souad El Bakri, the Director of Basic Health Services within the Ministry of Health, has attributed to increased rate of infections to the particularly cold weather recorded throughout Tunisia in March.
In the last week alone there have been reports of suspected H1N1 cases in the governorates of Sidi Bouzid, Kairouan, Tunis, Sousse and Medenine.
The Ministry of Health issued a public health alert, on Tuesday March 15, to at risk groups after Tunisia registered three deaths from the H1N1 flu virus, also known as swine flu. One death was recorded in January and two were recorded this March. The Ministry of Health recommends getting seasonal flu vaccines and reminds people to take appropriate preventative measures such as hand washing, covering coughing and sneezing and avoiding contact with people who show signs of the disease.
The H1N1 virus has been present in Tunisia since the global pandemic of 2009.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “The H1N1 (2009) virus is expected to continue to circulate as a seasonal virus for some years to come.”
World Health Organization (WHO) on H1N1:
- H1N1 influenza virus, which caused the 2009 pandemic, continues to circulate in some parts of the world, causing variable levels of disease and outbreaks.Groups at increased risk of severe illness from the pandemic H1N1 virus included young children, pregnant women, and people with underlying respiratory or other chronic conditions, including asthma and diabetes.
- Patients who have severe or deteriorating influenza should be treated as soon as possible with oseltamivir. Patients who are at higher risk of severe or complicated influenza should be treated with oseltamivir or zanamivir as soon as possible.
From the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC):
- Why is the 2009 H1N1 virus sometimes called “swine flu”?
- This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in the virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs (swine) in North America. But further study has shown that the 2009 H1N1 is very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs. It has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia and bird (avian) genes and human genes. Scientists call this a “quadruple reassortant” virus.
- Was the “2009 H1N1” pandemic virus the same as previously circulating human H1N1 viruses?
- No. The 2009 H1N1 viruses were antigenically and genetically very different from previously circulating human H1N1 viruses and, therefore, vaccines for human seasonal flu available at that time did not provide protection against 2009 H1N1 viruses. However, these 2009 H1N1 viruses are now commonly spread in people and the current seasonal flu vaccines do provide protection against these viruses.