Medical professionals did not expect the arrival of a wave of influenza cases in November, December and now January. Typically, August and September are the top months for flu season in Costa Rica.
The handful of patient deaths in San Carlos and two Cartago have brought the late-arriving flu into the public mind. Still health officials said that the various types of viral influenza have a mortality rate of just 3.7 percent.
María del Rocío Sáenz Madrigal, executive president of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and a former minister of Salud, said her agency was taking steps to improve treatment options. She said over the weekend that an additional four ventilators would be sent to Cartago and three more will go to San Carlos.
These are devices that use air pressure to help patients breath.
She also said that the situation in the Hospital de Alajuela was being evaluated for possible reinforcement of treatment options.
The Caja said over the weekend that there were 784 persons admitted to four major public hospitals since October through last
week. Of these, just 29 died, the Caja said.
Dr. Saenz Madrigal noted that many of the deaths were of persons who were high risk due to high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma or obesity and most had not been vaccinated.
She also characterized some versions of the influenza A virus as particularly aggressive. The one that gets the most press is the AH1N1, known as swine flu.
Caja workers urged residents to adopt protective measures, including hand washing and possible use of alcohol gels.
Individuals also should get a good night’s sleep and refrain from going to public gatherings if sick, they said.
In addition, they said that with the onset of flu symptoms, individuals should seek medical help. Some of the sickest patients are those who waited too long to seek help, they said. A high temperature and trouble breathing are symptoms that suggest hospitalization, they said.
Fernando Llorca Castro, the minister of Salud, made a special trip to San Carlos over the weekend to see the situation first-hand and to boost staff morale.