Friday, August 07, 2009

Flu virus medicine to be free in Costa Rica

By Chrissie Long
Tico Times Staff

There may be a long line to get it, but Costa Rica is doling out free anti-viral medicine to counter the A(H1N1) flu virus, which has so far claimed 25 lives in Costa Rica.

The medicine was donated by the Pan American Health Organization, and it will be distributed by the Costa Rican Social Security system as well as by private hospitals and clinics.

Because the medication is considered a “public good,” it will be distributed to people at no cost and following established guidelines,” according to a statement from the Health Ministry.

The medication – known as oseltamivir – was first administered to laboratory-confirmed cases and their contacts, but now people are being treated without waiting for laboratory results to confirm the virus.

The Health Ministry said people with influenza-like illness, who have high risk factors, should receive anti-viral treatment and that the medication should be taken within the first 72 hours of infection.

Health Minister Maria Luisa Avila further recommended against indiscriminate use of oseltamivir, as it could cause people to become resistant to the virus and also could disrupt the day-to-day operations of medical clinics.

Avila recommended that people follow instructions of medical personnel and not distribute, sell or donate the medication to other people.

President Oscar Arias urged residents “not to let our guard down.” He said the medication should be distributed to pregnant women first, as they are at higher risk of further medical complications from the flu strain.

Since the virus first entered Costa Rica in late April, at least 25 people have died of complications resulting from the flu. An additional 755 have been confirmed to be carrying the virus.

Of those who died, roughly 36 percent suffered from a lung condition, 40 percent were obese and 20 percent had high blood pressure.

The virus continues to affect young people predominantly. Sixty percent of the confirmed cases in the Central American region have been children younger than 20 years old.

Pregnant women are also highly susceptible “due to the physical changes (they) undergo in their condition,” read the statement.

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