San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Health officials prepare for second flu wave in February

As Costa Rica slides over the first wave of the flu pandemic, health officials are preparing for a new – perhaps more severe – outbreak in February or March of next year.

The Health Ministry is drafting a plan for distributing free vaccines and has continued its vigilance in circulating educational material.

As soon as November, Ana Morice, vice health minister, expects 200,000 vaccines to become available to vulnerable populations (those suffering from respiratory problems, obesity, etc.), including 60,000 for medical personnel and 25,000 for security forces.

In the meantime, the Health Ministry received a boost of confidence that their educational campaign is working.

A recently released study by the University of Costa Rica shows that Costa Ricans are becoming more aware of the symptoms of the H1N1 flu, with more people able to identify fever, sore throat, phlegmy cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing as warning signs.

Costa Ricans are also implementing sanitary measure to a greater extent, the study found, with 5 percent more people washing their hands after using the bathroom, 19 percent more washing their hands before or after eating and 30 percent more people washing their hands after they return from the street.

The statistics were gathered in two studies – one in May and the other in August – through interviews with more than 1,400 people.

One statistic that was of particular concern to the Health Ministry was a misconception concerning vaccines. According to both studies, 15 percent of the population said they´d been vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus.

Avila explained, “The truth is, we haven´t had vaccines that specifically target the H1N1. We have medication that prevents certain cases of the flu.

“It concerns me that people thought they were receiving the H1N1 flu vaccine,” she added.

In the dissemination of the real vaccinations due out in November, Avila has urged Costa Ricans to go through their medical practitioners, in order to avoid the possibility of receiving false medication.

Costa Rica is launching a collective purchase of the vaccines with other Central American countries, through the Pan American Health Organization, Morice said.

While the existence of a second wave is not confirmed, health officials are preparing for the possibility of a stronger, more resistant virus.

“Obviously, it would be better if the second wave never happened, but we are getting ready for the worst,” Morice said.

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