Lebanon News

Eleven children hospitalized over mysterious illness

File - Health Minister Wael Abu Faour poses for a picture at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Eleven children from Akkar were hospitalized Thursday after displaying symptoms similar to those exhibited by a young relative just before he died, the National News Agency reported, with one of the fathers demanding his kids be tested for swine flu.

Tensions ran high in the northern town of Fnaydeq after three siblings and seven cousins of Hasan M. Taleb, who died two days ago, began to show signs of shortness of breath and a high fever, both symptoms associated with swine flu.

Taleb died shortly after being admitted to a hospital for suffering from exactly the same things. The cause of his death is still unknown.

Hala, one of Taleb’s three siblings, was in such a critical condition that she was immediately taken to St. Georges Hospital in Beirut, according to the NNA. Her brothers, Hasan and Hawa, were initially admitted to the Monla Hospital in Tripoli before being transferred to the American University of Beirut Medical Center later in the day.

When contacted by The Daily Star, both the St. Georges Hospital and AUBMC’s emergency rooms refused to confirm or deny that the three siblings had been admitted, citing patient confidentiality. The transfer reportedly occurred following calls made by Future MP Mouin Merhebi to Health Minister Wael Abu Faour.

Fnaydeq Mayor Khaldoun Taleb announced that “seven other children, who are the aforementioned’s [Taleb’s] paternal cousins, were transferred by a municipality car to the Mounla Hospital in Tripoli as a precautionary measure.”

Monla Hospital Director Abdel Karim Mounla released a statement Thursday confirming that the father of the seven children had asked staff to test them for the H1N1 virus, otherwise known as swine flu.

“But this type of analysis is not available in the hospital, only at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut,” he said.

An emergency room employee at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital confirmed that the hospital did have the capability to conduct tests to detect swine flu, but told The Daily Star that no H1N1 cases had been admitted to the hospital this year.

According to Monla, the father of the seven children “refused to cooperate and insisted on admitting them to the hospital, even though their cases did not call for that.”

According to the NNA, the seven children were initially denied entry to the hospital and had to wait outside for four hours. A relative said the hospital refused to admit them until the family paid for their admission.

When contacted by The Daily Star, Mounla Hospital’s emergency room declined to comment on the cases.

Mayor Taleb said the municipality had been following up on the case and had contacted district physician Hasan Shedid. The epidemiological surveillance unit, which monitors diseases, has also been notified to start efforts to determine the cause of the illness.

Following a medical examination, the NNA reported, doctors determines that the condition of the seven children was very different from Taleb’s and his three siblings, but that tests were still underway.

Shedid said the Health Ministry was also followed up on the issue.

Later in the day, Mayor Taleb said another child, Khaled Ahmad Ahmad, had been transferred to hospital after he also contracted a fever and started suffering from shortness of breath.

The Health Ministry warned the public earlier this month about the dangers of the H1N1 virus after a number of cases emerged, advising flu patients to consult a doctor if their fever persisted more than five days or if they experienced breathing difficulties.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 14, 2014, on page 4.




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