Lanka airport screens Maldives passengers for swine flu

Sri Lanka's main airport has begun screening passengers from the Maldives amid an outbreak of the H1N1 virus in the archipelago.

Bandaranaike International Airport’s (BIA) quarantine director Dr Palitha Karunapema was quoted by the Sunday Times newspaper having said that during the week, up to 300 incoming passengers were referred to the health desk, and about 105 showed symptoms of H1N1 influenza.

However, it was not immediately clear whether the screening was limited to Maldives passengers.

He said certain regulations were followed during high-risk situations. If an ailing passenger was coming in, it would be registered in the system. Another way was ailing passengers’ general declaration in which details of their health status were filled and submitted, he said.

Dr. Karunapema said the Civil Aviation Department sought advice from the World Health Organisation and the International Civil Aviation Organisation during such situations.

The director said an increase in Maldivian passenger arrivals was likely after that country reported an outbreak of influenza and some respiratory ailments.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Airlines announced it had activated, on its flights operating in and out of Male, communicable disease procedures in accordance with the travel advisory of the Maldivian Health Protection Agency (HPA). SriLankan said its crew would be wearing face masks and would provide a face mask to any passenger who wish to wear one.

The Health Ministry’s Consultant Epidemiologist Dr. Samitha Ginige told Sunday Times that the H1N1 influenza had been tested as the prevalent influenza in the South East Asian region. He said Sri Lankans needed to seek medical advice if there were symptoms of this influenza.

The consultant said that although there had been an increase in the number of patients in areas such as Kandy, Kilinochchi, other parts of the Northern Province, and Bibile, the situation was now better. H1N1 symptoms start three to five days after a person has been exposed to the virus and last about eight days. Symptoms may include fever, sore throat, cough, muscle aches, headache, chills, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Maldives authorities have been battling to keep the outbreak in check with around 350 people tested so far while 114 have tested positive for the virus.

The flu has already claimed the lives of two people, one 26 year old man in early March while a 51 year old woman had died late Wednesday.

Government along with private health care providers have set up multiple flu clinic throughout the capital and suburbs to provide round the clock service.

Public schools, universities and private colleges have suspended classes while the authorities have urged people in the Atolls against travelling to the capital.

The government along with a few private offices have granted indefinite leave for pregnant staff to minimize the risk of contracting the virus.