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Phuket passes on swine flu vaccine

Legacy Phuket Gazette



PHUKET TOWN: Phuket residents at high risk of contracting swine flu are failing to get vaccinated due to fears of side effects.

Fewer than 7% of those identified as being at high risk have taken the vaccine, according to figures from the Phuket Public Health Office (PPHO).

The PPHO says there are around 10,000 people in Phuket listed as having conditions that put them at elevated risk. These include women over three months pregnant, people weighing over 100kg, people with autism, sufferers of chronic diseases as well as health care workers.

However, since the vaccination program began in mid-January, just 666 people have been inoculated.

PPHO director Pongsawas Ratanasang thinks public fear about side effects is largely responsible.

He insists the vaccine is safe and to prove this point was the first person on the island to be inoculated under the program.

After the injection I felt perfectly normal,” he said. “There was no allergic reaction. Professors have guaranteed that the vaccine is very safe. It’s just as safe as the normal influenza vaccine, which has been used for many years,” he said.

The vaccine has the backing of the World Health Organization, he added.

Between January 11 and 29, a total of 83,615 people nationwide received the vaccine.

Of these, 52 experienced mild side effects that included fever, prickly heat, aches and swelling of the skin. In all cases the symptoms disappeared within three days.

Dr Pongsawas said the number of people seeking treatment for flu-like conditions has increased recently, but most were not infected with the A(H1N1) virus that causes swine flu.

Asked about rumors that there had been an outbreak of the disease at the Wichit Songkraam School near Central Festival Phuket, he said teachers there closed the school on a precautionary basis last week after many students got sick.

Subsequent testing revealed that all were suffering from normal flu, not the A(H1N1) strain.

Since the beginning of the year there have only been five new cases of A(H1N1) infection reported in Phuket, he said.

However, the number of people seeking treatment at Vachira Phuket Hospital for flu-like symptoms has risen markedly in recent weeks, he said.

At the start of the new year, about fifty people per week came to the hospital with flu-like conditions, compared to over a hundred currently.

Most are given the antiviral drug oseltamivir and sent home without testing for A(H1N1), which is expensive. If their symptoms persist or worsen, lab work is then ordered, he said.

Dr Weerawat Yorsaengrat, deputy director of Vachira Phuket Hospital, said there were fewer swine flu patients now than there were at the beginning of the outbreak last year.

Nevertheless, I’d like people to keep taking care of themselves by washing their hands and keeping everything clean,” he said.

Anyone who starts to feel sick should stop any exercise routines until they return to full health, he added.

— Atchaa Khamlo & S. Fein


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