As Costa Rica slides down the back end of the first wave of the flu pandemic, health officials are preparing for a new – and perhaps more severe – outbreak in February or March of next year.
The Health Ministry, which continues to circulate educational material, is drafting a plan for the distribution of free vaccines.
Ana Morice, deputy health minister, expects 1.8 million vaccines to be available as early as next month to vulnerable populations (those suffering from respiratory problems, obesity, etc.), including 60,000 vaccines for medical personnel and 25,000 for security forces.
In the meantime, the Health Ministry received a boost of confidence from a recently released study that says their educational campaign is working.
The 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 the illness’ warning signs.
Costa Ricans also are implementing sanitary measures to a greater extent, the study found, with 5 percent more people washing their hands after using the bathroom, 19 percent more people 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.
While the results reflect well on the educational efforts of the Health Ministry, they also show that the population’s confidence in the Health Ministry has dwindled.
In May of this year, 60.9 percent of the population considered health officials well-prepared for the pandemic, whereas just three months later only 29.9 percent of the population said health officials were prepared.
For Health Minister María Avila, those numbers can be explained by simply looking at the headlines from that time.
“We have to look at this statistic in the context of the moment we were living,” Avila said. “During the period of time this survey was conducted (Aug. 1-Aug. 14), there were many deaths.”
A statistic that drew particular concern for the Health Ministry treats 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.”
Avila said Costa Ricans should consult their doctors to avoid the possibility of receiving false information about obtaining the real H1N1 vaccinations, due out in November.
While the certainty of an oncoming second wave of the flu is not confirmed, health officials are preparing for the possibility of a stronger, more resistant virus.