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Hot climate slows down spread of flu


(Microscopic view of influenza virus particles by DR FA Murphy, Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention; source: ah1n1.com; sun image by Billy Alexander / sxc.hu)

PETALING JAYA, 16 June 2009: Malaysia’s hot climate is a mitigating factor in the spread of the A(H1N1) flu virus here, an immunology and virology expert said.

“Viruses do not last as long in hot weather as they do in colder climates, which is why there is a correlation between winter months in countries with four seasons and higher incidences of influenza,” said Assoc Prof Dr Abdul Rahman Omar, a deputy director of Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Institute of Bioscience.

Dr Abdul Rahman said as A(H1N1) was a new virus, it was still uncertain if it was “seasonal” like the common flu which peaks during winter.

He said the nature of A(H1N1) could only be better known once winter, currently being experienced in southern hemisphere countries, was over.

“We might see a higher number of cases in southern hemisphere countries in the coming months. Whereas there might be fewer cases in countries like the United States, which are now entering the summer.

“But in Malaysia, where it is hot and humid and with little change to the weather, the virus would not last long. Our cases of infection here have all been imported,” Dr Abdul Rahman told The Nut Graph in a phone interview.


                                 (Pic by Gunavu Vinalou / sxc.hu)
Nevertheless, personal hygiene remained crucial as about 50% of infections occurred by contamination through touching of objects like doorknobs or walls, he added.

The spread of A(H1N1) to 76 countries across the world is also due to the fact that humans do not have antibodies against a new virus. The World Health Organisation has declared the spread of the virus as a level six pandemic.

Malaysia’s best defence now was thorough screening at airports of passengers who have been to countries with A(H1N1) human-to-human transmissions and to quarantine those who were ill or had the symptoms, Dr Abdul Rahman said.

He cautioned that while travelling in an airplane, passengers sitting next to or near an infected person stood a higher chance of catching the virus. However, he did not dismiss the possibility of the virus being passed on through the touching of toilet doors or cabin seats.

Dr Abdul Rahman said the information gathered at airport screenings must be detailed, and include the country of departure for travellers who switched flights in transit to prevent potential cases from slipping through.

“The government’s plan so far has been effective but the most important thing is information sharing. Information gathered must be detailed, and the public or travellers, too, must be forthcoming when questioned,” he said.


Dr Abdul Rahman (Courtesy
of Dr Abdul Rahman Omar)
On the return of Malaysian students studying in Australia at the end of the month for their winter holidays, Dr Abdul Rahman said those who were ill or had symptoms should be advised to delay their return until they recovered.

There are currently no restrictions on air travel as the pandemic is deemed mild, although Dr Abdul Rahman said it was always possible that it could become more virulent.

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