Two persons who died after exhibiting influenza H1N1 symptoms may possibly be among the six confirmed cases of the swine flu virus, Minister of Health Dr Fuad Khan said yesterday.
Speaking at a media conference at the Ministry of Health, Park Street, Port of Spain, Khan who called on citizens not to panic said the six cases of the H1N1 influenza A virus were confirmed in three patients from San Fernando General Hospital, one from Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex and two patients from an unknown area.
Within the region it was reported two days ago that Barbados had confirmed four cases of swine flu including one death.
When asked about the recent death of two persons with flu like symptoms, one of which was treated at the San Fernando General Hospital, Khan said, “I can’t answer you accurately but most likely. He may be one of the positives of the San Fernando General Hospital.”
“What I want to do is allay the fears that there is this great epidemic coming at us, it is not and that is what I want to do, because if it takes a life of its own we are just going to have like in 2009—over reaction. So we are trying to avoid over reaction.
“Now in order to decrease the level of panic that may set into this country as we see there are various headlines on it. Barbados has had, I think, one death as a result of the H1N1, I want to assure the public that this H1N1 which is called swine flu not bird flu—H1N5 is bird flu, (H1N1) has been around in Trinidad and Tobago since 2009. We have been having cases since 2009 so this is nothing new that is occurring at this time. I do believe what would have triggered the fear and concern was the neighbouring countries having the possibility of a death,” he said.
Khan said the high-risk population for the virus are those who are immuno compromised and so are susceptible—such as children six months to five years old, the elderly above the age of 65, those with respiratory disorders such as asthma etc, those who are on chemotherapy drugs. also people who for some reason or the other may have an illness where there self defence mechanisms do not respond properly.
“Those are the high-risk populations, those are the ones we will be looking to vaccinate after assessment by a medical doctor at a health office or a private centre. What causes the mortality of a patient of a high-risk nature would be respiratory infections, antibiotics are not going to help you, so you must go to the nearest emergency centre for treatment because you may have to have intensive care management where you may need assisted ventilation.”
“The symptoms are those of a normal common cold so what I would suggest anyone whose family has these symptoms should see a medical doctor to be assessed as soon as possible. The Ministry of Health has adequate medication for management we have adequate vaccination for prevention but there should not be a run on vaccinations just the population of high-risk persons should be vaccinated,” he added.
He said, if someone does not belong to the high risk population but is exhibiting symptoms and signs they will be vaccinated as well. The vaccine, he said, will be made available through the expanded programme for immunisation and the medical centres through the country and “active surveillance” will be done to make sure they get all the information.
Khan said if the virus is caught early it prevents mortality, but if it is caught late the respiratory system is then in disarray.
He also pointed out that the most important part of prevention is the social part of covering your mouth when you sneeze and cough.
“Because when you cough and you sneeze the droplets go approximately six feet. When you do wash you hands you can use sanitisers to kill the virus, sunlight and fresh air kills the virus. Washing of hands with soap and water is important,” he said.
He said when using public spaces try and sanitise your hands before putting it into your mouth so basically what prevents this virus is simple proper hygiene and cough social actions.
“Dr Avery Hinds Dr Avery Hinds director of the national surveillance unit and Dr Clive Teeluckdharry, Ag Chief Medical Officer will be dealing with the port entrances and educating passengers who enter into the country what symptoms to look for and where they should get assistance at the health facilities.”
“We have alerted the airlines to look for people with symptoms and they will not be able to fly because this is a problem that is throughout Caricom and throughout the world since 2009. However, because of the incident that has occurred we have to allay the fears of the public,” he added.
Khan said, people exhibiting symptoms can go to both the public and private centres.
Symptoms of the Influenza virus include:
• Sudden high fever (over 38°C or 100°F)
• Sore throat
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Body aches
Persons experiencing Influenza-like symptoms and any signs of faintness, weakness or breathing difficulty should present themselves immediately to the nearest Hospital Emergency Room for management.
Persons in high-risk groups experiencing flu-like symptoms should seek early medical attention. These groups include:
• Pregnant women
• Children under 2 years of age;
• Persons with respiratory complications like asthma and chronic lung disease;
• Persons with weakened immune systems including persons on chemotherapy or immunosuppressive therapy for transplants or other medical conditions;
• Persons with chronic non-communicable diseases including diabetes;
• Persons 65 years and older;
How is the flu spread?
The main way influenza (flu) viruses are spread is through droplets released into the air from the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. This can happen when droplets are inhaled directly by people nearby. Some droplets containing the virus also fall on hard surfaces (like desks, tables, phones and door knobs). People pick up the virus when they touch these surfaces and then touch their eyes, mouth or nose.
Another common method of infection is by shaking hands with someone who has not maintained proper respiratory and hand hygiene, and failing to wash your own hands before touching your face (especially your nose).
When can an infected person spread the flu virus to others?
Infected persons can spread the flu virus from 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 7 days after symptoms appear. Children, especially younger children, can be contagious for much longer periods (10 to 14 days).