Cayman still swine flu free

First cases detected in Jamaica, Bermuda, Bahamas.

As the World Health Organization moved closer to declaring a global swine flu pandemic Tuesday, the Cayman Islands remained swine flu free.

Medical officer of health Dr. Kiran Kumar said that 22 people have so far been tested for the virus locally. 21 have returned negative test results, while one test result remains outstanding. One case tested positive for seasonal Influenza A (H3N2).

Mr. Kumar’s update on the local situation came as Jamaica, Bermuda and the Bahamas all confirmed their first cases of swine flu earlier this week and the WHO said they were ‘getting closer’ to declaring the outbreak a global pandemic.

The Bahamian Health Ministry said Tuesday in a statement that a tourist from New York tested positive for the H1N1 virus on May 29 and has since returned home.

Bermuda chief medical officer Dr. John Cann said the Atlantic British territory’s first case of swine flu involved a 13-year-old tourist from the United States. The boy was treated with antiviral medications and returned home.

Two cases have been found in Jamaica among persons who returned from New York in mid May – a four year old child from St Catherine and a 27 year old woman from St Andrew.

Mr. Kumar, who has previously warned it is only a matter of time before a swine flu case turns up in the Cayman Islands, emphasised that all precautionary measures are still geared towards detecting the presence of H1N1 here.

‘The Public Health Department and the Health Services Authority remain vigilant in their fight against a possible pandemic. We are aware of the two confirmed cases in Jamaica, and we remain in full surveillance mode,’ he said.

Anyone that develops flu like symptoms within seven days of returning from an affected area is asked to report to the Accident & Emergency Unit at the Cayman Islands Hospital for assessment.

The WHO said Tuesday it was considering raising its threat level to a phase 6 pandemic as evidence mounted that the virus was taking hold outside North America.

WHO flu chief Keiji Fukuda said the disease has reached 64 countries and infected 18,965 people, causing 117 deaths.

The overwhelming majority of cases and deaths have been reported in Mexico and the United States, but increasingly the virus is spreading from person to person in countries as far apart as Britain, Spain, Japan, Chile and Australia.

“We still are waiting for evidence of really widespread community activity in these countries, and so it’s fair to say that they are in transition and are not quite there yet, which is why we are not in phase 6 yet,” Mr. Fukuda said.

The WHO is now debating whether to add a second measure that indicates how dangerous the virus is – rather than just how widespread – after several countries raised concerns that declaring a global pandemic could cause mass confusion and panic even though it is still unclear how dangerous the virus will be.

While WHO officials have not imposed travel restrictions to affected areas, Mr. Kumar said the presence of the virus should be taken into account when making travel plans.

‘Non-essential travel to Mexico and other affected areas is not advised,’ he said.

Mr. Kumar also reiterated there is no risk of the virus being found in local pigs, adding that properly cooked pork and pork products remain safe for consumption.

Health officials continue to stress that the best personal defence from flu is good hygiene.