Take the free vaccines to guard against swine flu, was the advice from Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh yesterday after he revealed there have been 17 lab-confirmed cases of Influenza A (H1N1) in the last year.
“I want to urge five major categories of people especially to take the vaccines: healthcare workers, pregnant women, the obese/diabetic population, children and patients who are immuno-compromised,” he said in answer to questions from the Opposition in the House of Representatives yesterday.
“Make use of the free vaccines available in the public health system. The vaccines are safe for pregnant women and their fetus,” the minister urged.
Three deaths were recently reported as a result of swine flu, particularly in southern areas. Deyalsingh was asked about the issue by UNC MPs Dr Lackram Bodoe and Dr Fuad Khan.
He said apart from the 17 lab-confirmed H1N1 cases, there were also two cases of Influenza AH3N2 and two cases of Influenza B in the last 12 months. He said there was no evidence any pregnant woman has died of H1N1.
On when a person should seek swine flu testing, Deyalsingh said protocols for suspected cases are based on whether the patient has a fever above or below 38 degrees and is very ill.
“But in the public health system, we treat all cases regardless of whether patients are suspected or confirmed, or whether the fever is above or below 38 degrees. If you wait for a report to confirm, the person would have died,” he said.
Nasal swabs are used for testing.
Deyalsingh said medical workers and pregnant women are very difficult to encourage to take the vaccine.
He said: “We’ve made a concerted effort in our antenatal clinics to advise pregnant women to accept the vaccine. Currently, we’ve vaccinated close to 2,000 pregnant women in the public health system.
“Three women who weren’t vaccinated almost died. We had to get them over the hump in the last year by using ICU unit treatment. Two recovered and one is currently being weaned off the ventilator. We hope she’ll follow the other two in having a full successful recovery.”
He said pregnant women are afraid the vaccine will cause birth defects.
“To all pregnant women, the vaccine is safe for you and for your fetus at any stage!” he advised.
The minister stressed that the vaccines are free at public health institutions. The Health Ministry bought 75,000 vaccines and has distributed about 17,000, with another 25,000 ordered.
Deyalsingh added that there are sufficient Tamiflu tablets in the public health system to handle the situation and close watch is being kept on stocks. If more is needed, it will be available within 24-48 hours from PAHO headquarters in Panama.
He said he wasn’t aware of any evidence that Tamiflu causes birth defects.
“We offer Tamiflu tablets to all pregnant women we’ve treated. The three I mentioned earlier were given Tamiflu or other antiviral medications,” the minister said.