Tamiflu on the way

Three thousand courses of the anti-viral Tamiflu are expected to arrive in the Cayman Islands by the weekend as the threat of a global swine flu pandemic mounted Wednesday.

Health officials secured the shipment of the drug from the UK at a cost of $70,000, after earlier this week admitting they ignored the national influenza pandemic plan to stockpile enough of the drug to treat 25 per cent of the population.

The 2007 plan was shelved after health officials baulked at the price of the drug.

The shipment will consist of 2,500 adult dose and 500 children’s doses.

While health officials insist the drug is no ‘magic bullet’ against swine flu, Tamiflu is effective in reducing the severity of several strains of influenza, including swine flu. No vaccine currently exists against the disease.

On Wednesday morning, health officials confirmed to the Caymanian Compass they have seen no suspected cases of the disease here, but they concede it is probably only a matter of time before suspected cases show.

The World Health Organization warned Wednesday that the swine flu outbreak is moving closer to becoming a pandemic. A 23-month-old child in Texas became the first person to die outside of Mexico from swine flu and cases were confirmed in two more countries.

In Geneva, WHO flu chief Dr. Keiji Fukuda told reporters that there was no evidence the virus was slowing down, moving the agency closer to raising its pandemic alert to phase 5, indicating widespread human-to-human transmission.

Swine flu is suspected of killing more than 150 people in Mexico and sickening over 2,400 there. As of Wednesday afternoon, the disease was confirmed in 93 other people in the U.S, Canada, New Zealand, Britain, Germany, Spain, Israel, and Austria.

Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack was due to chair an emergency meeting of the Cayman Islands National Influenza Pandemic Committee Wednesday afternoon to discuss the swine flu outbreak.

Health officials were urging people to avoid panicking, asking them to instead stress hand washing and personal hygiene in the coming weeks and to avoid non-essential travel to areas affected by the outbreak, including Mexico and parts of the United States.

They rebuked fears in the community that eating pork products could expose people to infection, reiterating that even if pork products were carrying the disease here, the virus is killed when cooked.

Effect on tourism

In a press release from the Department of Tourism yesterday, Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford said swine flu had the potential to seriously interrupt travel and trade around the world.

‘While international analysts disagree about the extent to which this will have an impact on tourism, locally we are taking steps to actively protect our borders, while working closely with our business partners to weather this crisis as we have done in the past when facing global threats.’

Only two Carnival Line ships have itineraries that bring them to Grand Cayman directly after visiting Mexico. However, both of these lines have cancelled their calls to Mexico until further notice, the DoT press release said. Other cruise lines have also temporarily suspended calls to Mexico.

The Cayman Islands has actually received additional bookings from cruise lines that have cancelled calls to Mexico. According to the DoT release, the Carnival Inspiration has extended its visits to two-day calls during the month of May and will stay in port until 6pm instead of 2pm on the first day. Other cruise calls have also been added.

Public Health issued advisories that all ships calling upon Cayman should restrict the disembarkation of passengers who are showing flu-like symptoms that have required medical attention.

Joseph Woods, manager cruise operations and security at the Port Authority, said that all vessels need to submit a declaration of health on arrival in port in Cayman.

Although there are no direct commercial flights between Mexico and the Cayman Islands, direct flights do operate to and from places with confirmed cases, such as Texas, New York, Canada and the UK, the DoT press release stated. In addition, private flights routinely travel between Cayman and Mexico.

Cayman Airways, which flies direct to New York, where a school was closed because of confirmed swine flu cases, said Monday that it would ‘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’.

Front-line staff at the airport and port have been advised to implement everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza, the DoT release said.

Staff members were asked to act with caution and observe people that may be presenting obvious symptoms.