Jamaica remains on flu alert, says health ministry

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The Ministry of Health yesterday reminded the public that the country was still on the influenza alert status announced by Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton in Parliament in February.

At the same time, the ministry confirmed that there have been deaths that resulting from complications arising from influenza, including H1N1, and reminded the public to “pay attention to the daily reminders in the print, electronic and social media and encourage all stakeholders to adhere to and practise all protocols relating to handwashing, sneezing and coughing etiquette and use of public spaces and facilities”.

The ministry was responding to growing concerns about the spread of the flu and, in particular, an appeal by retired veteran broadcaster Allan Magnus for more information after his wife, Kerry, succumbed to H1N1 two weeks ago.

On February 12, Tufton had announced in the House that the health authorities had seen a significant increase in the number of cases of fever and respiratory or flu-like illnesses.

He said that, 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 Organization Revolving Fund for Vaccines, and distributed to parish health departments in late October 2018. He also said that vaccination of target groups commenced in November 2018.

The vaccine, he said, is offered free of cost in the public health system to the following high-priority groups:

• Health care workers;

• Children and elderly with chronic illnesses;

• Pregnant women;

• Individuals who are institutionalised or in State care; and

•Non-health front-line workers.

Tufton also encouraged private health care providers to procure the influenza vaccine through private distributors in order to provide for the general population.

A few days later, in an address at the launch of the health ministry’s Compassionate Care Programme in Montego Bay, Tufton noted that H1N1 was the main flu virus going around and that the authorities have seen a lot of upper respiratory illnesses. “We mustn’t take it lightly,” he said.

“We have enough vaccine to deal with front line workers, the vulnerable groups, the young, the old and otherwise,” he added.

Yesterday the health ministry said it wished to highlight that the H1N1 virus (pandemic strain 09) has been in circulation in the island since 2009 and cases have been identified each year since, except for 2015.

“This virus has a great potential to cause epidemics and pandemics, and therefore every effort must be made to prevent its spread by adhering to strict hygiene protocol, immunisation of high-risk persons, and seeking medical attention when ill, so that treatment can commence at its earliest. While the majority of cases are mild, all influenza viruses have the potential to cause severe illness,” the ministry said.

It said it has already increased its public awareness campaign and has instituted enhanced infection control measures in public hospitals and health facilities.

“In addition, all clinicians have been resensitised to the protocol surrounding treatment and care of the members of the public who present with symptoms related to any strain of influenza,” the ministry explained.

The ministry also said it has “increased stocks of medication in hospitals and health facilities to respond to [any] increase in the number of persons hospitalised”. In addition, the extended opening hours at health centres have been continued and expanded to provide access to at-risk populations to include the elderly and children under five years old.

The ministry reiterated 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. 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,” the ministry stated.

Influenza A H1N1 is an acute respiratory infection caused by the Influenza Type A H1N1 virus and is one of a number of viruses that result in seasonal influenza in the island annually.

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