The public health advisor of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said she was encouraged by Cayman’s preparations for vaccinating vulnerable members of the community.
Stephanie Dobson from the CDC, speaking last week at a nursing conference in Cayman, told nurses, ‘I have read the H1N1 planning and your special population groups have already been pre-identified, which is very encouraging.’
The H1N1 flu vaccine priority groups are pregnant women, people aged six months or older with chronic medical conditions and health care workers. Depending on the availability of the vaccine, the next in line would be young children aged six months to four years, healthy children aged five to 18 and then other age groups.
Ms Dobson updated nurses on H1N1 when she appeared as one of several speakers and presenters during a week-long conference held at the cinema in Camana Bay last week.
In Cayman, the latest statistics of confirmed cases of H1N1 show that 104 people had tested positive for the illness by 10 October. Medical experts say the real number of local cases could figure as high as 2,000, but only 104 cases have been confirmed by the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre laboratory, known as CAREC, in Trinidad.
Doctors in Cayman have been treating any flu with fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit as H1N1.
Cayman confirmed its first case of H1N1 on 4 June this year, and one person has died of the illness. According to Kiran Kumar, the medical director of health, so far about 28 H1N1 cases have been hospitalised in the Cayman Islands, with the majority of cases occurring among young people throughout the islands.
Ms Dobson said the severity being seen so far was similar to that of seasonal flu, a fact confirmed by Dr. Kumar who said most of the symptoms seen in Cayman were mild.
Of those who have been hospitalised in the US, Ms Dobson said the majority had underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and morbid obesity.
A vaccine for H1N1 has been developed and the US has ordered 250 million doses for its 300 million population.
‘From 30 September, states could order how much vaccine they wanted because they are coming out in batches. The states ordered all the nasal fluid kits available,’ she said. Vaccinations are also available in injection form.
Ms Dobson said the CDC were monitoring the take-up of the vaccinations and also if there were any adverse effects reported in connection with its use.
Cayman is awaiting vaccinations from the United Kingdom which are expected to arrive by early November.
Ms Dobson said that people over the age of nine can get vaccinated for seasonal flu and for H1N1 at the same day.
Ms Dobson said the CDC had this summer reversed its tactic of advising schools to close if there were outbreaks within the schools.
‘For years, we had decided that we were going to take the tactic that if there were a number of cases, then the schools would close. Well, guess what? That backfired, because instead of staying home, [the students] were going to malls, they were going out and meeting friends, they were going to the basketball court and they were spreading the disease anyway.’
The CDC guidance is now for students who are sick to stay home and those who are healthy to continue going to school, with schools given autonomy to close if they felt it was necessary, with such closures being tracked nationally.