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.

The Ministry has noted that there have 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.

Viral respiratory diseases are characterised by fever with one or more cold symptoms such as chills, headache, body ache, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Infection with viruses in the respiratory tract may lead to complications such as tonsillitis, laryngitis, bronchitis or pneumonia. While sick, persons are advised to limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. Furthermore, individuals with fever should avoid leaving their homes to go to work or to other public places until the fever has subsided. Individuals should stay at home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Fever should be gone

Good personal hygiene is essential to prevent influenza viruses from spreading. Members of the public are advised to: wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and dry them with disposable tissue since this is the most effective way of reducing transmission. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Keep unwashed hands away from eyes, nose and mouth and cover one’s nose and mouth with tissue when coughing and sneezing. This will block the spread of the virus from your mouth or nose.

In situations where tissue is not available persons should cough into the inner side of the elbow as an emergency measure and throw used tissues in a bin or collect in a tied plastic bag. Frequently touched surfaces and objects such as doorknobs, keyboards, and phones that may be contaminated should be cleaned and disinfected.


Author: Ministry of Health/Cathy Lashley

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