Flu patients given priority

Hospital staff are giving priority to patients suffering flu-like symptoms who have recently returned from a country where swine flu has been reported, according to Medical Officer of Health Dr Kiran Kumar.

Health officials are awaiting the results of tests on six local patients suffering from influenza to determine if they have swine flu.

The latest health advisory came as officials awaited the arrival of 3,000 doses of Tamiflu, an anti-viral medication that has proved effective in mitigating the symptoms of influenza.

Dr. Kumar, in a health advisory issued Friday morning, said anyone suffering from flu symptoms who have been in contact with a confirmed case of swine flu or who have returned within seven days from a country where infections have been reported must report immediately to the Cayman Islands Hospital’s accident and emergency unit.

He said hospital staff were ready to treat those patients as a priority.

Director of Health Greg Hoeksema said the six patients from whom samples have been taken and sent for testing do not meet the criteria to be considered suspected swine flu cases, but the tests were done as part of the ‘hyper-vigilant’ approach being taken by health services.

‘We don’t believe they have H1N1 [the official name for swine flu],’ he said. ‘We wanted to see for example if one patient had regular seasonal flu as it would be helpful to understand if we still have seasonal flu in Cayman.’

He said two of the test results were expected Friday.

He added that health officials were determined to make sure that the first index case in Cayman was singled out and isolated to ensure the virus did not spread.

Flu patients attending the hospital are being asked to don masks before going to the triage desk, and a station for hand sanitisers and masks has been set up at the hospital entrance.

‘Asking those suspected of having the flu to wear masks is an effective way of reducing the spread of the virus,’ said Dr Kumar

‘We are not currently recommending masks to everyone, as they are not effective in keeping healthy people from getting sick in the community. Masks are useful in preventing infected persons from transmitting the virus to others.’

Those suffering from coughing, a runny nose, congestion, and a temperature of 38 degrees centigrade or 100.5 degrees fahrenheit who have had contact with swine flu cases or come recently from a country where it has been reported, will be treated with Tamiflu.

There have been no confirmed cases of swine flu reported in Cayman. According to the World Health Organisation on Friday morning, there were 331 confirmed cases of swine flu, including 10 deaths, in 11 countries, including 156 cases and nine dead in Mexico and 109 cases and one death in the United States. Canada had 34 cases, while Spain had 13 and the UK eight.

A supply of 3,000 units of Tamiflu, a medication that can mitigate symptoms of different strains of flu but is not a cure or a vaccine, was expected on island Saturday.

The medication has proven to be effective in alleviating symptoms of Influenza A (H1N1), the official name of the new strain which is a combination of swine, avian and human influenza.

In Cayman, the Public Health Department has advised private practitioners and the Chrissie Tomlinson Hospital of the national health response procedures it has put in place.

Swine flu symptoms are similar to seasonal flu and include fever with cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

Concerns that the name swine flu was impacting on pork sales has led the World Health Organisation to rename it Influenza A (H1N1).

Meanwhile, following the declaration of public health emergency regarding this particular strain of swine flu, which is a combination of swine, bird and human flu, local agriculture officials in Cayman have tested more than 300 pigs on the island for the flu.

Director of Agriculture Adrian Estwick said: ‘The survey is not yet complete, but reports thus far are negative for the presence of this virus,’ he said.

He added that the Department of Agriculture was unable to test locally for the specific virus that causes swine flu. Instead, if any positive Influenza A samples that were found would be sent to the US for further testing.

‘To date, there are no reports of flu-like viruses in the local pig population and we would like to keep it that way,’ he said.

The department is also considering imposing a temporary restriction on the importation of live pigs, which is rare on the island, as most imports are of meat rather than livestock. The last time pigs were imported into Cayman was in December 1998.

Mr. Estwick explained that there was no evidence of swine influenza being transmitted by meat.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Caribbean Basin Agricultural Trade Office Director Sarah Hanson confirmed that pork and pork products remain safe for human consumption, and there have been no reports of Influenza A H1N1 occurring in swine in the United States.