JEDDAH, Nov 14: The much-needed rainfall last month not only provided relief to a city that hasn’t seen the likes of precipitation for two consecutive years, but also delivered a more serious threat — an extremely painful and possibly fatal strain of influenza.
Arab News visited hospital emergency rooms and polyclinics across Jeddah and witnessed the same scene of weeping and feverish children clinging to exhausted parents who are doing their best to keep their cool with overworked and weary hospital staff.
“We have been really busy this last few weeks. My duty is usually routine but tonight for example I have already given many injections and I’ve only been on the job for an hour,” a Filipino nurse at King Fahd Hospital told Arab News.
Dr. Sabri Al-Tantawi, pediatrician and neonatologist at Halah Essa Binladen Clinic agreed. “This year there was a considerable amount of cases compared to past seasons due to the fact that we have very few people getting vaccinations,” he said.
Al-Tantawi said this season he witnessed as many as three strains of flu, which are known as Malaysian, H1N1 and Neocaltonia. All of them show the same symptoms: fever, muscular pain and congestion.
“The best way to protect yourself and your children is to get a vaccination every autumn whether experiencing flu symptoms or not,” he advised.
Dr. Noha Dashash, director of Primary Health Care in Jeddah, told Arab News that the number of flu cases has been on the rise around the city due to the massive number of Umrah pilgrims that had come to the region during the Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr holidays. Some estimates say that Jeddah welcomed an additional 2 million visitors this year.
“An increase in flu reports is normal this time of the year worldwide. However, Jeddah is a special situation with a higher risk due to its geographical location and the number of visitors it receives annually,” said Dr. Dashash.
Local schools have also been recording a difference since the weather changed. “I’ve seen many children that have become ill in the last few weeks; many of them are suffering from coughs and complain of fatigue,” said Faten Al-Najjar, biology teacher at a government high school in Jeddah. “We usually have two or three absentees each day but it is more now. In a few days we will be having tests and students know they can’t afford to miss classes,” she added.
Some concerned parents and school officials have suggested that the Ministry of Health should help remedy the problem by beginning a flu vaccination program. “If schools would hold a two or three day vaccination period this would cut down on the spread of illness and the number of absences,” said Um Abdul Rahman, a mother of three and teacher of Islamic Studies at a Jeddah government school.
But Dashash said it would be quite difficult for the ministry to offer a vaccination program as most flu vaccines are manufactured in North America or Europe and wouldn’t match the flu strains experienced in the Kingdom.
“The best way to stop the spread of illness is simply by washing hands and promoting sanitary practices among children,” she said.
Speaking about any potential cases of dengue fever in the region, Dr. Dashash said, “We are happy to relate that in the last 17 weeks, Saudi Arabia has reported the lowest number of dengue cases among the 150 affected countries worldwide.”