Last update: 10-Dec-2013 10:54 am
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Minister mum on reports of two swine flu deaths
Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan said there were six confirmed influenza A H1N1 virus (swine flu) cases in T&T but assured the public there was no need to panic. He could not, however, confirm reports there were two deaths at the San Fernando General Hospital (SFGH) last Saturday as a result of the virus, saying they were still investigating this. “There’s a possibility... most likely it was,” Khan said. The confirmation about the six cases came from the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (Carpha) laboratory.
Khan said it was likely the public’s recent fear and concern were triggered by reports of instances of death as a result of the virus in neighbouring Caribbean countries. According to reports, there were six confirmed cases in St Vincent last month and one person died in Barbados three days ago. Speaking to the media yesterday at his ministry headquarters, Park Street, Port-of-Spain, Khan said there was no epidemic and swine flu cases were “nothing new” to the country.
“I want to assure the public that this H1N1, which is called swine flu, has been around in T&T since 2009. We have been having cases since 2009,” he added. When asked if he knew how many cases there were since 2009, Khan said he could not provide a number. He said the ministry was trying to avoid the spread of “over-reaction and over-treatment” throughout the country as it did in 2009.
While saying high-risk people included children, seniors and those with weaker immune systems, Khan still advised anyone who showed symptoms of the virus—common cold, fever and cough— to go immediately to a health facility. He said those at risk included obese people, those with chronic lung problems and asthma and people on chemotherapy. He added such people should be given the vaccination but all applicants would have to be assessed first.
“I would suggest that anybody who, or whose family has these symptoms should see a medical doctor to be assessed as soon as possible,” he said. When asked whether facilities were ready for such an influx of people who may experience flu-like symptoms, Khan said there were sufficient medical personnel and medicine available.
“We have a lot of health professionals in the country, both public and private, and I think they will be taking care of this disorder and the ones that need further treatment, we send to the emergency centres.” He said people should not seek out vaccinations if they think they have the virus. “At the Ministry of Health we have adequate medication for management, we have adequate vaccination prevention but there should not be a run on vaccinations,” he added.
Not all patients would receive a vaccine as that would be reserved for high-risk patients after testing. “Those are the ones we would be looking to vaccinate after assessment by a medical doctor at a health office or a private centre,” he added. He said when people went for treatment too late their respiratory systems would already be in “disarray,” increasing the risk of death. Khan also stressed that patients should not rely on any type of antibiotics as those were ineffective in fighting off the virus.
“You must go to the nearest emergency centre for treatment because you have to have intensive care management where you may need assisted ventilation,” he added. Results from testing for the virus took up to five days to process, Khan said. Airport and port authorities have been put on the alert to be vigilant about incoming and outgoing travellers. Asked if special screening would be done on passengers from neighbouring countries, Khan said the stringent checks were for everyone.
“This is a problem that is throughout Caricom and throughout the world since 2009,” he added. The ministry plans to start a campaign to promote awareness and education with the distribution of pamphlets in health facilities and schools about the virus’ symptoms and how to prevent infection.
Some people have been using the terms swine flu and bird flu inter-changeably but they are not the same. Here are the differences:
• Influenza is a virus that infects people, birds, pigs and other animals.
• Swine flu: Pigs, occasionally transmitted to hog farm workers and veterinarians.
• Bird flu, also known as avian flu, is carried by birds, particularly poultry and has never been detected in T&T.
Speed and deadliness:
• Swine flu: Spreads fast, less deadly.
• Bird flu: Spreads very slowly, much higher death rate.
• Swine flu: Human-to-human transmission, via cough droplets and unsanitised surfaces.
• Bird flu: In extremely rare cases spreads between people but mostly from direct bird-to-human exposure.
Where it affects your body:
• Swine flu: Affects respiratory system.
• Bird flu: Attacks all systems in human body.
Points to remember about swine flu:
• It is a contagious virus that is spread from person-to-person by droplets released into the air when an ill person coughs or sneezes.
• A person can become infected when those droplets are inhaled directly or by touching contaminated surfaces, like door handles, faucets, telephones and then touching the mouth, eyes or nose.
• This is why it is important to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after contact with shared surfaces, devices or utensils and after coughing or sneezing.
• The virus can survive on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours.
• People with the virus may be contagious from one day before they develop symptoms and up to seven days after they get sick.
• Younger children may be potentially contagious for up to ten days.
Symptoms of H1N1 include:
• High fever over 38 degrees celsius.
• Sore throat.
• Runny nose.
• Headaches and body pains.
• Fatigue and tiredness.
• Nausea and vomiting.
• Severe illness can include pneumonia and respiratory failure.
Other ways to prevent the spread and protect yourself:
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in a trash bin after use, and wash your hands properly with soap and water.
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