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Island on lookout for bird flu

The Ministry of Health has intensified its surveillance for Avian Influenza A (H7N9), also known as bird flu.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John, told the media this morning that the ministry already had surveillance systems in place for acute respiratory infections and severe acute respiratory infections for a number of years.

However, following confirmation of the first human cases of Avian Influenza A in China late last month, Barbados, along with other Caribbean countries, had been put on alert by the Caribbean Public Health Agency.

“CARPHA – the CAREC arm – has specifically put all of us in the Caribbean on alert and what we have been asked to do is to intensify our surveillance systems for acute respiratory infections and submit any viruses that we cannot subtype…

“We have stepped it up to involve all doctors to ensure that if they see any unusual clinical pictures, any unusual displays of respiratory illness that they should alert us and send in samples of the nasal pharyngeal swabs with a clear travel history and all of the other required information.

“We have surveillance [for acute respiratory and severe acute respiratory illnesses] that has been going on for years. In the Caribbean region, we are very strong on this. So every week, the Epidemiology Unit checks how many of these cases we’ve had and we have sentinel sites around the island mainly through the polyclinics. We have been specifically getting reports on a daily basis on the International Health Regulations focal points.

“As part of the normal system, we were already checking and then we have had alerts from WHO and back-ups from PAHO directly on the IHR focal points and then now we have the overlay of the Caribbean putting us on alert and asking us to do specific things that we were already doing,” the CMO stated.

St. John explained that Barbados was part of a regional network in addition to the PAHO Americas and WHO networks. She said health officials had been “characterising and keeping a careful watch of all levels of illness”, adding that the ministry had not detected any strange patterns, “but as soon as we do we will ramp up our measures and inform as we always do”.

She further added that severe acute respiratory infections were reported by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, samples were sent to the public health laboratory and any information was submitted to CARPHA.

“So that they have a record of what are the viruses circulating in Barbados and they give us reports on what is circulating in the region. So that feeds into the PAHO and the WHO system that has been monitoring these viruses around the world,” she disclosed, adding that she was not aware of any cases of avian flu in other Caribbean territories.

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