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Vital Signs

Gaza on swine flu alert

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
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Gaza ripe for H1N1 pandemic
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gaza is preparing for swine flu cases but has no vaccines
  • Palestinian territory is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet
  • Doctors fear one case could start an epidemic
  • Border guards have thermal camera to check body temperatures
RELATED TOPICS
  • Gaza
  • Swine Flu

Gaza City (CNN) -- Swine flu has not reached Gaza yet but with 1.5 million residents squeezed into 360 square kilometers it would appear to be a small miracle.

Gaza's Ministry of Health knows it is a matter of when not if the virus will get in. Moain Kariri, Director of Health Education, said: "It could be here tomorrow or the day after, you know there are no borders among bacteria and viruses."

H1N1 may not have arrived, but neither have the vaccines. Doctors in Gaza and the West Bank say they were expecting an initial 20,000 doses from pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, but are still waiting with the order running late.

They were hoping to vaccinate 4,000 pilgrims leaving Gaza for Mecca and the Hajj later this month. That is looking far less likely.

Dr. Majdi Dhair from the Ministry of Health now says they will just have to monitor the pilgrims once they return.

"Checking them, examining them at the border and following them for the whole incubation period which means seven days in their homes."

The joke in Gaza is that its swine flu-free status is the sole benefit of Israel's blockade on the territory.

At the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt has installed a thermal imaging camera which checks all passengers coming into the terminal.

If any part of a person's body is above 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) they will be taken aside and tested for H1N1.

Border guards told CNN they've found no flu sufferers yet.

With about 4,000 people per square kilometer, Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet.

Doctors say just one case of swine flu in Gaza could trigger an epidemic.

In the absence of vaccine, the only thing Gazan doctors can do so far is teach people how to lower the risk of contracting the disease in the first place.

Posters showing Gazans how to wash their hands properly or sneeze into a tissue have been distributed as well as an educational film about the dangers of swine flu.

Health teachers are going into schools to teach children as young as two the etiquette of good hygiene.

Preventative education is the strongest weapon Gaza's doctors have and they're using it to its fullest while hoping the vaccines arrive soon.

Just as some joke the Israeli restrictions on Gaza travel have prevented the disease from entering so far, many worry once the virus is in, it could stay in.