No flu drug stockpile

Cayman Islands health officials admit they ignored their own plan to stockpile anti-viral drugs to battle flu pandemics.

britian swine

Teacher Alistair Dixon, returning home from Mexico, wears a face mask as he pushes his luggage beside his father Stanley, background, after landing at London’s Heathrow airport Sunday April 26, 2009. Mexican President Felipe Calderon has assumed new powers to isolate people infected with the deadly swine flu strain that health officials say has killed up to 86 people and likely sickened about 1,400 in the country since April 13. The flu has spread beyond Mexico’s borders with 20 confirmed cases in five U.S. states and suspected cases as far away as New Zealand.
Photo: AP

If the swine flu were to take hold in the Cayman Islands, there was only enough of the drug to treat 25 to 30 people as of Monday.

A 2007 government influenza pandemic plan called on public health officials to stockpile enough of the antiviral, Tamiflu, to treat 25 per cent of the population in the event of a pandemic.

‘I do not have an answer to that,’ said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar when asked why there is no stockpile.

However, he said the United Kingdom has indicated it would be prepared to make the drug available to overseas territories in the event of a flu pandemic.

‘I don’t have a written [assurance] but that is our understanding,’ he said.

Tamiflu has proven effective in reducing the severity of several strains of influenza, including swine flu; however Mr. Kumar added it needs to be taken within 48 hours the onset of symptoms to be effective.

Mr. Kumar was speaking as fears of a global flu pandemic worsened after World Health Officials said Monday the number of confirmed cases of swine flu has increased to 73, including 40 confirmed cases in the United States. Mexico had by far the most suspected swine flu cases – 1,614, including as many as 149 deaths – while Canada had six confirmed cases.

In Cayman, a multi-agency meeting was scheduled to take place at the Cayman Islands Hospital early Monday afternoon to address how the country would respond to the pandemic fears.

That meeting could give rise to the establishment of two emergency committees to oversee Cayman’s response to the pandemic threat.

Mr. Kumar said he has emailed cruise ships that visit the Cayman Islands, asking them not to allow sick passengers to disembark here, although he conceded there is little health officials can do to ensure that happens.

‘It has to go on trust; we can’t go on and test them,’ he said.

Mr. Kumar explained that there is no vaccine against the swine influenza. He advises anyone who may have travelled to these areas and experiences fever and respiratory symptoms to contact their physician.

Symptoms of swine flu in humans are similar to those of regular or seasonal flu and include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some with swine flu also have reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Russia, Hong Kong and Taiwan all said Monday that visitors returning from flu-affected areas with fevers would be quarantined, while countries from New Zealand to Israel quickly instituted new security measures at airports and put sick travellers under observation.

The European Union health commissioner on Monday urged Europeans to postpone nonessential travel to parts of the United States and Mexico affected by the swine flu, and holiday tour operators from Germany and Japan cancelled charter flights to Mexico.

Spain became the first nation outside North America to confirm a case of swine flu Monday, and Scotland’s health secretary announced that tests “conclusively” confirmed two cases there in people recently returned from Mexico.

Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford said Monday morning tourism officials are monitoring the situation.

‘Things such as our seaports and airports… we’re looking right now at what measures might need to be put in place to ensure that we try our best to stop this from spreading to our shores.’

Manager Cruise Operations and Security with the Cayman Islands Port Authority Joseph Woods said cruise ships visiting Cayman don’t come here after mainland Mexico but some do come here after visiting Cozumel, which is an island off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Mr. Woods said, ‘We’re liaising with Public Health [Department], so if they impose anything we can comply with directions such as quarantine.’

He noted that all vessels need to submit a Declaration of Health on arrival in port in Cayman and the Port Authority reviews this to see if there is anything of concern with any ship.

The Port Authority made extra enquiries this morning regarding a cargo vessel that had come from Mexico, he said, and everyone on board was reported to be in good health.

Senior Manager Airport Operations with the Cayman Islands Airport Authority Kerith McCoy said, ‘We remain ready to facilitate any requirements, which would be implemented by the Health Services Authority. At this point, we have not had any directive from HSA on this matter.’

Cayman Airways’ CEO Designate Olson Anderson said, ‘Neither the local health or immigration authorities have issued notices regarding precautionary measures being taken for the admittance of passengers to the Cayman Islands from any gateway.

‘However, Cayman Airways will continue monitoring the situation closely and will update the travelling public if changes to the airline’s regular operations become mandatory by the local health or immigration authorities.’

Asked if Cayman Airways would take specific route precautions, particularly on its New York route as a school was closed because of the flu, Mr. Clifford said anything implemented would be across the entire network.

‘It seems to be moving so rapidly that I think it would be a mistake for us to implement measures only in relation to a part of our network,’ he said. ‘This is a new thing and within days it has moved from what it was in Mexico to the US being under a state of emergency with respect to public health. It is a concern for us.’