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After swine flu death in South: Cover-up, say relatives

Published: 
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Cherrie Ryce’s certificate of death, which shows she died from the H1N1 Influenza (swine flu) at the San Fernando General Hospital.

T&T recorded its fourth confirmed death from the highly contagious H1N1 Influenza (swine flu), which accounted for over 14,000 deaths worldwide in 2009. 

According to a copy of a death certificate obtained by the T&T Guardian yesterday, Siparia mother Cherrie Ryce, 46, died of swine flu at the San Fernando General Hospital last Saturday after being warded there for just over a week. The death certificate certified by Prof Hubert Daisley stated the cause of death as “H1N1 influenza, diabetes mellitus and type 2 hypertension.”

Now Ryce’s relatives are calling on the Health Ministry to probe a possible cover-up at the hospital, saying she may have contracted the virus while staying in a ward that medical staff labelled as an “infectious ward.” Ryce’s sister, whose name was withheld because of her job, said she was told there may have been other swine flu-related cases and deaths at the hospital for the year. 

A staff member at the hospital said there were suspected cases of swine flu and when patients die, their cause of death were given as pneumonia. After Ryce’s death, her daughter, Jennel, and ten-month-old grandson, Isaiah, were quarantined at the San Fernando Teaching Hospital for three days having visited her on October 14.

The sister said Ryce was unable to walk properly due to an injury sustained in a childhood accident. She said Ryce was an outpatient at the hospital for years as she suffered with diabetes, hypertension and other ailments, and was even warded at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) after slipping into a coma.

Recently she underwent an eye surgery and due to medical complications, she was enrolled in a clinic. She explained that when Ryce went to the hospital for a schedule clinic appointment on October 8, she was doing well and had no symptoms of the cold or swine flu. She added that her sister has never left the country and had no foreign visitors in recent times.

Based on her medical condition, further tests were needed and Ryce was admitted to a ward where she said patients and doctors wore mask. 

“Even while she was suspected of having H1N1, the doctor at ICU told us there were other cases at the ward where she was and even one at ICU. We were told that there were cases of H1N1 since the last administration but when patients die, they put the cause as pneumonia,” the sister said.

She added that when another sister visited on October 10 with her new-born baby, staff there told her that the child was not allowed because it was an infectious ward. On October 14, Jennel and Isaiah visited Ryce at the hospital.

Ryce’s sister said: “It was Saturday when the pathologist found out her cause of death. He told Jennel to check her son out at the ward because he got the cold after visiting his grandmother. She took him to casualty where she waited for two hours before the doctor called her.

“They gave the baby a nebulizer, took blood from him and quarantined both of them in a room at the teaching hospital by themselves.

“They told her that she had to remain there until Sunday when a special doctor would come to see them. For three days doctors came wearing special suits. They pushed food through a hole for them to eat until they were discharged on Monday evening.”

Ryce’s sister said Jennel and Isaiah returned to the hospital for a review yesterday but doctors told them more tests needed to be done to determine whether he has swine flu. 

Contacted yesterday, medical director of SFGH Dr Anand Chattergoon said he was unaware of the death and would be speaking with Prof Daisley to learn more. He said he tried contacting Daisley yesterday without success.

Pandemic
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), 14,286 people died worldwide during the 2009 swine flu pandemic of which there were 237 deaths in Central America and Caribbean region. Barbados confirmed four cases; Cuba, one; Dominican Republic, 93 and Jamaica, 33. One death was confirmed in Trinidad, with several other being treated for the virus. 

However, there were several other suspected deaths in 2009. There were also two confirmed swine flu deaths in 2013.

Deyalsingh: We are on top of it
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said he was informed of swine flu risk yesterday and a statement would be made soon by acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Clive Tilluckdharry. However, he said he would keep a keen eye out as he allowed medical experts to do their jobs, saying his role as minister was to set policies.

“The acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Clive Tilluckdharry, at a heads of departments meeting this morning brought us fully up to date and he will be making a statement soon. 

“We are on top of it but my way of managing the ministry is that those closest to the issue will be the one making statements but I will be keeping a close eye. It will be derelict of me if I don’t,” Deyalsingh added.

More info
Ex-health minister: Be on the alert
In a media release yesterday, former health minister Dr Fuad Khan Recently said there was a resurgence of the H1N1 virus in India and other parts of Asia in the past month which has infected thousands and may have caused a dozen deaths in that region. He said it was imperative that local authorities be on alert given T&T close ties with countries in that region.

“Though we have suffered casualties of this virus during the pandemic in 2009, under my guidance, the Ministry of Health took steps to ensure that our health facilities were fully equipped to treat with this disease should it ever pose a threat to our nation and prevent any further loss of life. 

“At this stage there is no reason for panic, for as long as those counter-measures are enforced and we as a national community remains vigilant for both ourselves and our neighbours, the citizens of this country can remain safe and protected from this virus,” Khan said. He said the Immigration Division should also be on alert to conduct screening of people coming to T&T from the affected countries as well as prepare medical facilities to dispense vaccination and treatment of the disease.

He also advised that anyone traveling to or returning to the South Asian region should be aware of the potential risk of swine flu and seek vaccination, practise proper hygiene and monitor symptoms like the seasonal flu as the virus is contagious. He added that young adults and pregnant women were at high risk of contracting the disease.