Many Trinbagonians are at a high risk of contracting the swine flu virus and would therefore have to be vaccinated, Health Minister Fuad Khan said yesterday.
He advised all those who are over 65 years, younger than five years, who are obese, pregnant, asthmatic, receiving chemotherapy, have chronic lung diseases or is a transplant patient to go to the health centres to be vaccinated. Such persons, who are in the high-risk group, along with all health care workers “who are susceptible” would be vaccinated, he said. Khan added that smokers who have emphysema would be among the high-risk group.
He disclosed that Trinidad and Tobago had six confirmed cases of swine flu (H1N1). Khan stressed however that any person experiencing tightness of the chest or chest pains along with coughing and fever, should proceed immediately to the nearest emergency centre.
He was speaking at yesterday’s post-Cabinet news conference.
Khan said the virus affects the respiratory system. The symptoms appear as a common cold, with a sudden outset of high fever, dizziness, vomiting, nausea and chest pains, he said. He said the common cold symptoms can be treated “in-house” or by private practitioners. But, he stressed the chest symptoms require emergency measures. Khan said for those who contract the virus, the medication to treat it, is available at health centres.
The virus is spread by “droplet infection”, that is by sneezing, coughing and by droplets on various utensils or in the atmosphere, he said. “So to protect oneself one has to make sure that anyone who is suspected of having a common cold or the virus itself, in coughing and sneezing, one has to cover one’s nose and mouth. Also one should use sanitiser or soap and water to cleanse one’s hand,” he said. He added that those manifesting these symptoms of the disease should remove themselves from any group of persons or person and take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.
Khan said the six confirmed cases were persons who were admitted to intensive care unit at the hospital. “That is how we caught them. Many people may have the disease and not reach that stage so we would not catch them,” he said. He said he believd that one or two of the cases were in ICU while others had come out of ICU.
Khan said the country did not have any bird flu (H1N5 virus) or any avian influenza types. He said the H1N1 (swine flu) virus has been here since 2009.
He said those whose immunity is not compromised had a fatality rate of less than 1 per cent, while the high risk group had a fatality rate of two to three per cent.
Khan said the vaccine would not be lifelong because the influenza is mutating on a continuous basis. “So if you take an H1N1 type A, you may have to get a vaccine for another group of the vaccine. However, it (the vaccine) does protect you for at each a couple of years,” he said.
He said the World Health Organisation does not recommend a nationwide innoculation drive in the circumstances. He said there should not be a “run” on the vaccines unless people are susceptible to the disease. He said there would be ongoing surveillance, both active and passive, to determine if there is any serious rise in incidence. This would in turn be reported to PAHO with a view to determining whether travel restrictions should be imposed.