June 19, 2009
Time for Swine Flu Education


Swine flu was upgraded last week by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to a global flu pandemic, the first in 41 years.

Cases have been reported in several Caribbean countries: On Monday, June 15th, Jamaica was reported to have 11 cases, Cuba has reported 6 cases, Trinidad and Tobago, 5 cases, Barbados, 3, The Caymans islands, 2, and The Bahamas and Dominica have 1 case each of the virus.{{more}} It seems only a matter of time before a case is reported here.

The WHO is stressing that reference to a global pandemic does not refer to the severity of a disease but means it has spread to a large number of countries.

With visitors beginning to arrive from around the Caribbean as well as the United States and Britain, which are known to have infections, we have to be on our guard. The biggest rise in virus infection is in the United States which, according to the WHO, has had more than 4,600 new cases of infection confirmed since last week Friday, along with 18 deaths. That brings U.S. totals to nearly 18,000 (17,855) people infected and 45 fatalities. The number of confirmed swine-flu cases in Britain has jumped by nearly 50 percent since Friday, to more than 1,200 (1,226).

While our health officials say that there is no reason to panic as most persons who contract swine flu recover, the WHO’s tally, as of June 15, shows H1N1 flu virus has infected nearly 36,000 people in 76 countries. More than 160 people have died, mostly in Mexico, where the outbreak began. It seems that persons with underlying health problems such as diabetes, asthma, young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk.

Now is the time to remind ourselves, and teach our children the basics of infection prevention. When SEARCHLIGHT checked with the Ministry of Education this week, we were told that no official programme had yet been started in our schools. Children are among the groups of persons most vulnerable for complications when infected by this virus and the overcrowding in many of our schools presents an environment in which the virus would easily spread.

Stepping up public education will not lead to panic, but will ensure that when, not if, the virus arrives, we contain the spread and keep sickness and fatalities to a minimum.