By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – It appears that Brazil, still reeling with the surge of the Zika virus and its link to many microcephaly cases, is now facing another health problem, the H1N1 or swine flu. Since the beginning of the year more than 300 cases of H1N1 have been confirmed by the Ministry of Health with 46 deaths.
São Paulo state by far has been the hardest hit, with 260 confirmed cases and 38 deaths caused by swine flu. During the same time last year there had been twelve cases confirmed and no deaths due to the swine flu.
Government officials are so concerned with the early outbreak of the deadly flu that it authorized the state to start its flu vaccination campaign a month earlier than scheduled due to the alarming numbers. More than three million doses of the vaccine will be sent to public and private hospitals and health clinics within the next fifteen days.
Since last week residents of São Paulo city have conducted pilgrimages to private clinics hoping to find the vaccine. On Saturday, in one of the richest neighborhoods of the city, Brooklin, many lined up before 5AM at clinics which had confirmed shipments of the vaccines. By noon more than one thousand doses had already been administered and by early afternoon the vaccine was already nowhere to be found.
Also hard to find is the antiviral medication Tamiflu, used to treat swine flu. There are reports that hospitals have started to run out of the drug, forcing family members of those infected by the virus to search themselves for the medication. The RioTimes telephoned 15 drugstores in different parts of the city and none had the drug in stock.
In Rio de Janeiro, officials worry that this health problem may affect the Olympic and Paralympic Games, being held in city in August and September. The increased number of H1N1 flu contamination usually occurs after May, when the weather in the country starts to cool. On Thursday the first death due to swine flu was reported in the state.