The Ministry of Health is investigating two deaths that could be related to the influenza-like illnesses now affecting the island.
While influenza cases are not at an overall high for the year, health officials say they are concerned about the level of frequency and severity.
Senior Medical Health Officer and epidemiologist Karen Springer told a media briefing this morning at the ministry’s headquarters in the Frank Walcott Building that in the public sector there were 1,137 reported acute respiratory cases for last year, compared with 807 this year. She said however, when looking at the last few weeks – over the period August 23 to September 13 – there were 137 acute cases, compared with 94 for the same time in 2012.
It is that increase and sharpness of the spike this year that has health officials concerned and urging the public to observe and exercise hygienic practices, especially for those who present symptoms of any kind of respiratory or influenza-like sickness.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Tennyson Springer, told the same conference that many of the influenza-like illnesses could be prevented if Barbadians did what they were supposed to in terms of their own personal hygiene.
“You will see, even from the presentation on the dengue . . . there are a lot of things that can be prevented in terms of the spread and we have to, as Barbadians, participate in this process to reduce the spread,” said epidemiologist Springer.
“We do have concerns at this point about the level of influenza and the severity of the cases and that is why we have taken the necessary precautions to talk to the public and try to get confirmation tests done on the samples taken. We do have concerns as the agency responsible for health care,” she added.
Acting Minister of Health Michael Lashley had earlier remarked that the ministry was monitoring the increase in the influenza illnesses, and yesterday had collected samples from ten patients, and performed preliminary tests, with the samples being sent on to the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad for further testing. Those results are expected to be back within a week, Springer said.
Minister Lashley had said that the ministry was investigating two deaths associated with respiratory illnesses.
“We are aware that the H1N1 virus has been identified in some countries in the Caribbean region,” he said. “However, we are unable to say at this time if the current influenza cases are as a result of the H1N1 virus.”
In addressing the situation of dengue on the island, Lashley also clarified that there was still only one reported death so far for the year from dengue fever, while a second death that the ministry had spoken about a day ago was still being investigated.
“So far for this year, 511 cases of dengue fever have been confirmed, compared to 169 cases for the same period in 2012,” he added, recalling the statistics given by the ministry earlier this week.
Springer said seasonal influenza vaccine should be arriving in the island within another week, even as he noted that vaccines for frontline workers and those in high risk categories were currently available. She said she was sure that Barbados was prepared to handle whatever virus was circulating, once it was identified and confirmed by the Trinidad centre. (LB)