Flu warning issued for Barbados

The Ministry of Health has advised Barbadians to take all the necessary precautions against influenza in the wake of an outbreak of the virus in the United States, while it is making vaccines available to front line health workers.

In a statement this evening the ministry noted there had been reports of an increase in influenza circulation in North America towards the end of 2012 and extending into 2013. Historically this increase in influenza activity in the United States has come earlier than expected, it said. The predominant virus isolated has been influenza A (H3N2), followed by influenza B and influenza A (H1N1).

It has pointed out that data on cases of respiratory illness in Barbados from polyclinics, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and sentinel private sites is collected and analysed weekly to determine trends in respiratory activity. In recent weeks, surveillance of respiratory illness has so far detected no increase in levels of respiratory activity above what is expected among community and hospitalised patients.

The Ministry of Health has pointed out that respiratory samples from patients in the community and the hospital are submitted locally to two government labs in Barbados that have the capacity to detect influenza and other respiratory viruses. Some samples are sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency for testing.

It added that the two most common viruses isolated during the last two months of 2012 were Respiratory Syncytial Virus and Seasonal Influenza Virus Influenza A/H3N2. Other viruses isolated during this period included Influenza B, Rhinovirus and Parainfluenza virus.

During the last three weeks of 2012 and the first week of 2013, Seasonal Influenza Virus Influenza A/H3N2 has been the predominant virus isolated among eight Caribbean countries.

As a result of this, Barbadians are advised that infection with viral respiratory diseases may be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle that involves eating nutritious foods, getting enough exercise and rest, as well as managing stress levels. Individuals are advised to also wash their hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand rub may be used.

The Ministry of Health has made provision for the availability of Influenza vaccines in the public sector for health care personnel, public health institutions and front line staff. The vaccine is also available in the private sector. Influenza A (H3N2), influenza B and influenza A (H1N1) strains are included in the 2012-2013 seasonal influenza vaccine.

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