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Year Ender: Egypt’s health issues in 2010

Poor hygiene, crowding and bad nutritional habits were primary causes for the common illnesses seen throughout Egypt in 2010.

The most common everyday health problems involved influenza in its many forms. Lamiaa Mohsen, secretary general for the National Council of Childhood and Motherhood and professor of pediatrics and neonatology at Cairo University, points out that theses cases were “not necessarily the H1N1.”

Essam Gouda is professor of chest diseases and allergies at Alexandria University's faculty of medicine, and a fellow of the American College of Chest Physicians. He says 2010 started out with an H1N1 epidemic: many patients were infected by the virus and the percentage of deaths from influenza was slightly above the norm. However, towards the end of the year numbers decreased and the epidemic ceased.

According to the website, the flu infected 204.6 per million of Egypt's population and 1.7 percent of those cases were fatal.

Viral infections have a high mutation rate and attack strongly in different ways; according to Gouda they tend to attack the respiratory tract. 

Most affected were the asthmatic, people with diabetes, pregnant women, people over 70 and children. In some instances, viruses had an increased intensity and led to pneumonia, which can be fatal.

Gouda says these illnesses are avoidable. Excessive crowding in schools and buses allow the spread of a virus. “When 100 people are on a bus meant for 30 people and one person coughs, at least ten can catch the virus.”

Another major cause of chest problems in Egypt is smoking, including the seesha. Gouda also says that in Alexandria instances of bronchial asthma are higher because as a Mediterranean city it has high humidity, which affects the chest.

Mohamed Farouk, lecturer in pediatrics at Cairo University, says that in the past few months he has seen more pneumonia–especially in two to four month old babies–than H1N1 patients. Farouk says patients who come in with flu tend to be treated for their symptoms. Only in extreme cases is a throat swab taken to identify the specific type of virus.

According to Farouk, for children the two most common health problems this year were those of the respiratory system in winter and the gastro-intestinal system in the summer. In winter the upper tract can be affected by tonsillitis and the lower tract by bronchitis and pneumonia.

This summer and towards the beginning of fall the rota-virus was most common, characterized by diarrhea and severe vomiting. Patients with these symptoms had to be treated for dehydration.

The pink eye, cases of which occurred by the hundreds in various governates in Egypt, was most often seen in places such as Mansoura and Daqahlia, according to Farouk. He says it was rare in the bigger cities and that it is not a dangerous illness. It can be caused by bad sanitation and is found in places with a lot of flies.

Farouk says that streets and school walls that are lined with garbage are a major cause of such common illnesses.

Finally, Mohsen says that chronic illnesses in children, such as diabetes, obesity, malnutrition and anemia, saw an increase in the past two years.

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