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WHO issues advice to prevent flu spread in hospitals

COUNTRIES should be on high alert for the new swine flu virus, tracking any suspect cases and ensuring medical workers do not spread it further, the World Health Organisation said today. Doctors and hospital staff must wear protective masks and gloves and wash their hands often to lower the risk of transmitting the new strain among themselves and patients, the United Nations agency said in fresh guidance on the outbreak.

"All countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans. Countries should remain on high alert for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia," WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said.

The WHO has raised its alert level to 5, on a scale of 6, indicating a pandemic was "imminent". (

"At this stage, effective and essential measures include heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases and infection control in all health facilities," Chan told a news conference late yesterday.

Laboratories must gear up to analyze quickly whether patients have the new strain and follow good biosafety measures, said Chan, adding the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was working to make diagnostic kits available to other countries and laboratories.

The new virus has killed up to 176 people in Mexico and is spreading fast.

A dozen countries have reported cases of the H1N1 strain and Texas officials have confirmed a 22-month-old Mexican boy had died in the state while on a family visit, the first confirmed swine flu death outside Mexico.

"It is critical that health care workers use appropriate infection control precautions when caring for patients with influenza-like symptoms ... to minimize the possibility of transmission among themselves, to other health-care workers, patients and visitors," said the WHO.


Extra care must be taken when treating a patient with an acute, respiratory illness and fever, especially those who have been in an affected region within the week before symptoms began, it said.

The virus appears to spread mainly through droplets.

Family members visiting patients should be allowed access on a limited basis and must also use the same infection control measures as health workers, the WHO said.

Medical staff should isolate or avoid crowding patients together, and wear eye-visors, goggles or even a face shield when directly treating those infected with the virus.

Procedures such as cleaning out the respiratory tract, intubing a patient, performing a bronchoscopy or even an autopsy carry increased risk of transmitting the virus, the WHO said.

"Health care workers with symptoms should stay at home," it said.


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