Health officials confirmed Cayman’s second case of swine flu Saturday and are bracing for more cases this week.
The Public Health Department said Saturday evening that the second case involved a resident returning from the US and was unrelated to last weeks’ first H1N1 swine flu case in the Cayman Islands involving a male student from First Baptist Christian School.
Officials said the resident was recovering well in home isolation, but offered no further details on the case.
However, they acknowledged that more cases are likely to be confirmed this week after several staff and students at First Baptist tested positive for Type A influenza, which includes both the H1N1 virus as well as regular seasonal flu.
Samples from those testing positive have been sent to a laboratory in Trinidad and results are expected back by the end of the week.
The school was set to reopen Monday after being closed Friday and sanitised over the weekend.
Despite the likelihood of further cases and the possibility of sustained human-to-human transmission in the Cayman Islands, Health Services Authority Medical Director Dr. Greg Hoeksema said the virus remains mild and there is no need to panic.
“Fortunately, this flu is not much different from the typical seasonal flu and allows us to react in much the same way as we would with the seasonal flu,’ he said.
‘Our number one recommendation is, if you feel sick, stay at home,’ he said.
Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kiran Kumar, said the First Baptist student only displayed very mild symptoms and is recovering well in home isolation.
New Health Minister Mark Scotland called on employers to help stop the virus spreading.
‘This is a national health issue and we ask businesses to facilitate the call for home isolation,’ he said. ‘It is a public health directive and employers must support employees who have to stay home when they are sick or to care for a sick child.’
The First Baptist student – whose age has not been released – is thought to have caught the virus on a trip to New York, from which he returned on 25 May. He developed symptoms two days later and was taken to the Cayman Islands Hospital on 29 May.
The boy initially tested negative for Type A influenza, before showing a ‘weak possibility’ of having the H1N1 virus on a second screening test.
While health officials originally thought it was unlikely the child had the H1N1 virus, they asked that he be removed from school while they awaited test results from Trinidad.
Health officials were trying to determine why the boy was back at school on Monday 1 June, against their orders. In total he spent four and a half days at school after returning from New York.
School officials praised the response of the HSA and Public Health Department, which they said helped calm the nerves of jittery parents Friday.
‘The parents that came in this morning were scared, but they were appreciative of how professionally and how quickly the health services dealt with it,’ Pastor David Jorge, from the adjoining First Baptist Church, said Friday.
‘I was surprised at how well everyone responded. We thought there could be panic but there really wasn’t,’ he said.
Mr. Jorge said there is a lot of misinformation about the virus, and the nurses did a lot to help clear that up and answer parent’s questions.
‘It was important for them to learn that the regular seasonal flu virus makes more people sick than this one,’ he said.
‘It’s not as bad as it has been hyped up to be.’
Dr. Hoeksema agreed that doctors are less alarmed about the current mild form of the virus than they were when it first emerged in Mexico in April.
‘The level of anxiety has decreased,’ he said.
‘Although the initial information coming out of Mexico caused great alarm, the subsequent information… has indicated to us that the overwhelming majority of people that contract this virus have a very mild form of the disease.’
Dr. Hoeksema said not everyone with flu symptoms will be treated with the anti-viral Tamiflu.
‘Most of the patients worldwide have recovered without Tamiflu,’ he said. ‘We will follow international guidelines and use Tamiflu to treat severely ill patients and high risk patients.”
Dr. Hoeksema cited US data that shows that the H1N1 flu virus has an attack rate of 10 per cent in public and 20 per cent at home.
‘This means that for every 10 people a sick person comes into contact with, one might get sick,’ he said.
A local hotline has been set up for anyone with questions about the virus. The number is 926-2812.
As of Friday, there had been almost 22,000 worldwide cases of the virus reported in 70 countries. There have been 125 deaths attributed to the current outbreak of the H1N1 virus.
Health officials said they will continue to keep the public informed of any developments and again insisted that the best personal defence against H1N1 is good hygiene. In a release they offered the following advice:
– Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
– Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
– If you are sick, stay home from work or school and protect others by avoiding close contact with them.
– Good health is also important — eating right, getting enough sleep and exercising.