CARPHA seeks to ease fears over outbreak of H1N1 virus in the Caribbean

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Monday September 30, 2013, CMC – The Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has sought to quell fears of an outbreak of the deadly H1N1 influenza virus in the region, noting that the Caribbean, like other regions in the Americas, experiences seasonal influenza activity.

In a statement, CARPHA said that improved health monitoring by the ministries of health “is providing more timely and detailed information on viruses currently circulating in the region.

“This has resulted in the recent confirmation by the Caribbean Public Health Agency of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus from samples received from St Vincent,” the statement said, adding the identification of 2009 H1N1 influenza virus from persons seen at health care facilities in St. Vincent is “as a result of the increased investment by Ministries of Health, CARPHA and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in laboratory services and surveillance”.

Over the weekend, Barbados health authorities denied there is an “outbreak or suspicion of outbreaks” of Avian Influenza, commonly known, as Bird Flu on the island.

Senior Veterinary Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Mark Trotman, said that recent media reports had made reference to H1N1 and that the error had caused problems for the island.

“There have been some reports in the media about (an) outbreak of influenza H1N1 in St. Vincent and an influenza-like illness in Barbados, and it has been erroneously referred to as Bird Flu, which has created a number of challenges for us in the Veterinary Services Department with respect to international trade issues and international opinion about the status of the health of the animals and the birds in Barbados,” he said.

Trotman said that one of the strongest animal surveillance programmes on the island was that of Avian Influenza and that if a case had been detected it would have been reported immediately to the World Organization for Animal Health.

CARPHA said that in the Caribbean, the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus is the most commonly identified influenza virus circulating in the region and this is not an unexpected finding.

“There have been no deaths related to this incident and all patients have recovered and been discharged from hospital. In addition, ministries of health in the region are aware of the situation and are closely monitoring their health facilities.”

CARPHA and PAHO said they were taking the opportunity to advise members of the public to practice respiratory hygiene measures in order to reduce the risk of transmission of influenza and other respiratory viruses.

“You should cover your mouth with a tissue or handkerchief, or use your elbow, if sneezing or coughing. You should safely dispose of used tissues; wash your hands with soap and water after coughing and sneezing and before and after meal preparation, eating and use of the toilets. Alternatively, you may use an alcohol based handsanitizer,” the statement added.

It said that influenza is a viral infection that affects mainly the nose, throat, bronchi and, occasionally, lungs and that it usually lasts for about a week, and is characterized by the sudden onset of high fever, aching muscles, headache and severe malaise, non-productive cough, sore throat and rhinitis.

The virus is transmitted easily from person to person via droplets and small particles produced when infected people cough or sneeze. Influenza tends to spread rapidly in seasonal epidemics,” the statement added. .

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