Sunday, July 19, 2009

Influenza A/H1N1 Update from the Minister of Health Trinidad & Tobago


Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. July 19, 2009

The following is a statement from Minister of Health, Senator, The Honorable Jerry Narace, on the current state of H1N1 in Trinidad and Tobago:

"I wish to inform the national community on the latest developments of the H1N1 virus locally and globally and renew my call to all citizens to be on alert and follow closely all guidelines and preventive measures issued by the Ministry of Health assisting us in our efforts to slow any potential community spread of the Influenza A H1N1 virus.

Since a pandemic has been declared, we have noticed in the beginning a peak in the public's interest in the matter and a concern over both preventive measures and the clinical management of the virus. Lately, however, we are afraid that some of our fellow citizens have been complacent and therefore I would like to take this opportunity to stress that this is not the time to let our guard down and be negligent. On the contrary, given the international circumstances and the rapid spread of the virus globally, we need now more than ever to be cautious and follow proper hygiene and respiratory protocols. The H1N1 virus is still a serious concern and we all ought to treat it as such.


International Situation

If we reflect on the international situation, according to the last update released by the World Health Organization on July 6th, 135 countries had reported 94,512 laboratory confirmed cases globally, with 429 deaths connected to Influenza A H1N1. And according to the Director General of WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan, the virus's “further international spread is unstoppable”.

You might have also heard that in the UK twenty nine (29) deaths have now been recorded, with 55,000 new H1N1 cases reported just last week. The British government has also warned that deaths from H1N1 this winter could be between 19,000 and 65,000 in the UK, although experts say it is impossible to predict exactly.

While the widely affected Mexico in the northern hemisphere has seen H1N1 cases decreased, the peak of the flu season is approaching in South America and Argentina has declared a public health emergency. Paraguay has reported its first fatality, while in Central America El Salvador has also recorded its first death. In the Caribbean region, two countries, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, have reported two deaths each.


Change in reporting practices

The World Health Organisation has described the pandemic as the fastest-moving one ever. In fact, in a statement on July 16, 2009, WHO explained that “the 2009 influenza pandemic has spread internationally with unprecedented speed. In past pandemics, influenza viruses have needed more than six months to spread as widely as the new H1N1 virus has spread in less than six weeks”.

Given this spread, WHO communicated to all member countries that it will no longer publish the tables showing the number of confirmed cases for all countries. It also indicated that countries are no longer required to submit regular reports of individual laboratory-confirmed cases and deaths. This is because the reporting of such numbers has been deemed no longer effective as a monitoring tool.

The Ministry of Health abides by WHO guidelines and as such has stopped reporting all of its confirmed H1N1 cases to WHO, but we will continue to report on a weekly basis our qualitative assessment of the situation, based on WHO guidelines.

Nevertheless, surveillance, monitoring, recording, analyzing and proper follow up of H1N1 cases continue as normal and under the given high alert mode that has been adopted since the declaration of the pandemic. Therefore, we will continue to report to the national community the confirmed cases of H1N1 locally.


Trinidad and Tobago Update

Thus far in Trinidad and Tobago the Ministry of Health has recorded an accumulative ninety seven (97) laboratory confirmed cases of Influenza A H1N1. Of these cases, ninety six (96) people have been cleared and have returned to their normal activities. Currently we only have one case that is still pending but recovering well. It is also important to note that all cases to date have been mild and all affected persons have recovered well.


Appeal to citizens

That is why I renew my call and appeal once again to all citizens to follow all recommended preventative measures to contain the spread of the virus.

I hope by now all of us are familiar with the respective guidelines:

Follow proper hygiene and respiratory practices
Avoid contact with people who have respiratory illnesses
Follow the Ministry's guidelines on mass gatherings, which are available on the Ministry's website or by request at our hotline 800-WELL (9355).
If you have a flu-like illness, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to avoid infecting them; and delay your travel
Seek official information by the Ministry of Health through its communication channels, including the 800-WELL hotline and our web site.

Anyone who develops flu-like symptoms and has traveled or has been in contact with a person who has traveled to the affected countries in the past seven (7) days should IMMEDIATELY visit his or her nearest health center or doctor.

Further actions by MOH

Vaccines

Going forward the Ministry of Health continues all its heightened activities related to pandemic response.

The Ministry is also examining preliminary proposals by private companies for H1N1 vaccines, which are expected to be available by the end of the year. The Ministry will be making a decision over the purchase and dissemination of vaccines once more information becomes available and according to WHO/PAHO guidelines and international best practice.

Schools

Additionally, in preparation of the fall season when schools will reopen, we shall be issuing special protocols in conjunction with the Ministry of Education of which of course we will notify you in due time.

Closing

Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we know that:

we are in the middle of a pandemic, the first pandemic after 41 years;

the H1N1 virus is a new virus and as such it is still being studied by international experts and there is no way of knowing how it will evolve and whether and how it will mutate;

We also know that this pandemic is the fastest moving ever;

However, thus far the overwhelming majority of patients experienced mild symptoms and made a full recovery within a week, often in the absence of any form of medical treatment. [The exception seems to be pregnant women and people with underlying health problems, who were at higher risk from complications from the virus.]

Nevertheless, severe and fatal cases can occur both in healthy people and people with underlying conditions.

We are confident that if we all work together and continue practicing good sense in our behaviors, we will be able to mitigate the impact of the pandemic virus and protect one another from this serious threat.

I thank you."

Senator the Honourable Jerry Narace
Minister of Health - Trinidad and Tobago
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