KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica’s Health Minister Rudyard Spencer has revealed that the influenza A (H1N1) virus is now being transmitted locally, following this past weekend’s confirmation of four more cases in the island.
On Monday, the health ministry said it could not confirm whether there was a local spread of the virus, which has now been identified in 19 patients, including a child and an adult in Manchester which forced the education ministry to close all schools in that parish.
Tuesday, however, Spencer reiterated that, despite the local transmission of the virus, there was no need for the public to panic as the health ministry had the matter under control.
“This development is not unexpected and is in keeping with the pattern of transmission globally,” Spencer told Parliament yesterday.
“We expect that we will continue to see an increase in the number of confirmed cases, especially in light of the mobility of the Jamaican people within and without our borders.”
In responding to questions raised by opposition members after his presentation yesterday, Spencer added that there was no need at this time to ban public gathering as the number of those infected was sparse across the 14 parishes.
He said the ministry’s surveillance system remained robust and has been providing up-to-date information on early detection. He added that the ministry continued to adhere to international guidelines for testing and treatment of people with flu-like symptoms.
Samples, he said, were being sent to the National Influenza Centre at the University Hospital of the West Indies, as well as to the regional centre in Trinidad and Tobago.
Spencer stressed that the country had more than adequate supplies of drugs to treat the virus, given the recent donation of medication from Mexico.
“The H1N1 virus is a public-health threat of national concern. We are not taking this matter lightly,” he said.
“We have a team of competent public-health specialists and managers who have a fine reputation nationally and internationally for successfully managing public-health risks.”
Spencer added: “The country and our people are in good hands.”
However, even as the health minister urged calm, panic remained rife in Manchester, where only a day before all public schools and some private institutions closed temporarily on the instructions of the education ministry.
It was confirmed on Monday that a child who attended a preparatory school in the parish capital, Mandeville, was infected. Thirteen per cent of the school population subsequently began showing flu-like symptoms.
Since Monday’s announcement, pharmacies in Mandeville have been flooded by customers seeking to purchase gloves and masks to prevent infection from the virus.
But the announcement has also left some parents concerned as some are unable to leave their children at home.
One teacher, who has two children attending the same school at which she teaches, said she had to take her children with her on to the school compound yesterday because she was afraid to leave them at a day-care centre.
“The ministry close the schools, but there is no word on day cares. What will happen now that most students could congregate there?” she asked.
The ministry said it has issued no directive or advice for day-care centres to be closed as no cases have been detected at such facilities.
Concerns were raised at a prominent upper St Andrew preparatory school yesterday when parents learnt a child at the school had contracted the virus after a visit to Miami, Florida, earlier in the month. However, no other student has reported having flu-like symptoms since the confirmation of that case.
The school has called a meeting for 8 this morning to discuss the issue with concerned parents.