Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton has put the island on alert for influenza (the “flu”), noting a significant increase in the number of cases of fever and respiratory or flu-like illnesses.
Flu is an acute viral infection that spreads easily from person to person, mainly by coughing, sneezing and through close contact. The viruses circulate worldwide and can affect anybody in any age group with symptoms varying by age and include fever/chills, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, headache, and runny or stuffy nose.
“Mr. Speaker, we wish to advise this honourable house and the members of the public that the flu is to be taken seriously, as it can lead to pneumonia and blood infections, and cause diarrhoea and seizures in children. The flu can also worsen chronic medical conditions such as heart or lung disease,” Minister Tufton told Parliament in a statement on the subject on Tuesday afternoon (Feb 12, 2019).
Persons at highest risk of dangerous complications from the flu are infants and young children, adults 60 years and older, pregnant women, and persons with chronic medical conditions or weakened immune systems.
“Mr. Speaker, in preparation for this flu season, a total of 21,900 doses of Influenza vaccine were purchased by the Ministry of Health through the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) Revolving Fund for Vaccines and distributed to parish health departments in late October 2018. Vaccination of target groups commenced in November 2018,” the minister noted.
The vaccine is offered free of cost in the public health system to the following high-priority groups:
- Healthcare workers;
- Children and elderly with chronic illnesses;
- Pregnant women;
- Individuals who are institutionalised or in state care; and
- Non-health frontline workers.
Private health care providers are encouraged to procure the influenza vaccine through private distributors in order to provide for the general population.
By activating the protocols for an alert status for Fever and Respiratory (Influenza-like) Illness, the Ministry of Health will immediately:
- enhance its public education campaign to reinforce good hand hygiene and emphasize respiratory etiquette;
- activate enhanced infection control programme in hospitals and health facilities for preventing, controlling and investigating communicable diseases;
- increase stocks of medication in hospitals and health facilities to respond to increase in the number of persons hospitalised;
- continue and expand the extended opening hours at health centres to provide access to at-risk populations to include the elderly and children under 5 years; and
- continue implementation of overcrowding management plans for major hospitals.
“Mr. Speaker, the implications of this increase in the number of cases of the flu will mean that members of the public will experience longer waiting times at public health facilities. We crave their indulgence, as we seek to ensure that all those who visit our facilities receive care,” Tufton said.
“At the same time, we strongly encourage members of the public to practice good hygiene, including washing hands with soap and water; and covering the mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing,” he added.