Swine flu pandemic declared

Third case confirmed locally, more likely

A third case of H1N1 swine flu has been confirmed in the Cayman Islands, as the World Health Organization on Thursday declared the first global flu pandemic since 1968.

The WHO moved the alert to the top of the agency’s six-stage pandemic scale on evidence the mostly mild virus is now spreading on four continents.

Speaking at the organisation’s headquarters in Geneva, Director General Dr. Margaret Chan said the further spread of the virus was inevitable. But she said there is good reason to believe it would be of moderate severity in its early days.

Local public health officials urged people not to panic, stating the WHO’s pandemic declaration does not indicate a major change in the nature of the virus.

‘A pandemic means that there is global sustained human-to-human transmission, and does not in any way reflect the severity of the disease,’ said HSA Medical Director Dr. Greg Hoeksema.

‘Fortunately, to date, the H1N1 remains a mild virus. Today’s WHO announcement will therefore not change our response, as we have already adjusted our strategy to fit the situation,’ he said.

Cayman’s third case is a classmate of a First Baptist Christian School student who was last week confirmed as Cayman’s first swine flu case.

Dr. Hoeksema said the child experienced only mild symptoms and is now recovering well in home isolation.

‘Like most cases around the globe, the child [has] an uncomplicated and mild case and has required no treatment other than tender love and care and the help of Mother Nature,’ he said.

The latest confirmed case was one of seven results received from the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre in Trinidad Tuesday night.

A further 12 tests results from people connected to the school are expected back by the weekend.

‘We are fully expecting some of these cases to come back positive,’ Dr. Hoeksema said, adding that human-to-human transmission of the virus has clearly begun locally.

Now that the virus has jumped the containment fence, health officials agree there is little they can do to stop it spreading locally.

But they hope to be able to slow it by convincing sick people to stay home from work and by convincing parents to keep sick kids away from school.

‘Anyone with a fever and a flu-like illness should stay in home isolation until your symptoms have completely resolved,’ a HSA release stated. ‘There is no longer a need to report to the hospital or seek medical care unless you are concerned about the severity of your illness.’

Dr. Hoeksema advised people to use regular overthe-counter medications to relieve their symptoms and said the antiviral Tamiflu will only be used in high risk cases, in line with international guidelines.

Virus spreads

The WHO declared the flu outbreak a pandemic as infections climbed in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America and elsewhere. The organisation predicted its decision will trigger drug-makers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine and prompt governments to devote more money toward efforts to contain the virus.

As of Wednesday there had been 27,737 cases of swine flu in 74 countries, resulting in 141 deaths.

The agency has stressed that most cases are mild and require no treatment, but the fear is that a rash of new infections could overwhelm hospitals and health authorities – especially in poorer countries.

Still, about half of the people who have died from swine flu were previously young and healthy – people who are not usually susceptible to flu.

Swine flu is also continuing to spread during the start of summer in the northern hemisphere. Normally, flu viruses disappear with warm weather, but swine flu is proving to be resilient.

The last pandemic – the Hong Kong flu of 1968 – killed about 1 million people. Ordinary flu kills about 250,000 to 500,000 people each year.

Health officials in the Cayman Islands have set up a 24-hour flu hotline to help patients who want additional advice. The number is 926-2812.

‘Anyone with a fever and a flu-like illness should stay in home isolation until your symptoms have completely resolved.’- The Health Services Authority.