In April, reports began emerging from Mexico of deaths from a new strain of influenza.
Since then the H1N1 flu – commonly known as ‘swine flu’, although it is a combination of bird, human and swine influenzas – has claimed thousands of lives worldwide and infected millions.
On 11 June 11 the World Health Organisation declared an H1N1 pandemic, moving the alert level to Phase 6, marking the first global pandemic since the 1968 Hong Kong flu.
At the end of November, the 2009 worldwide update by the WHO stated that 207 countries and overseas territories/communities had reported laboratory confirmed cases of pandemic influenza H1N1, including at least 8,768 deaths.”
The first case of H1N1 was reported in Cayman in May when a male primary school student at First Baptist School fell ill after returning from a trip to New York. The boy recovered at home and did not suffer severe illness.
According to the Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar, the vast majority of people who have since contracted H1N1 in Cayman have also suffered mild symptoms with only a handful needing to be hospitalised.
The first and only H1N1 death in Cayman occurred in July. The death of the 31-year-old man, a resident of Caribbean Haven, led to some confusion – initially the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority said he had not died from the virus, but samples sent to the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre in Trinidad confirmed a few days later he had H1N1.
Fears about the spreading virus led to the cancellation of July’s inaugural Caribbean Games in Trinidad and Tobago.
If the virus had any upside, it was experienced briefly the tourism industry in Cayman when there was a 17.8 per cent increase in cruise arrivals in May, primarily because of ships diverting from Mexico due to the H1N1 virus outbreak in that country.
In September, the European Commission authorised H1N1 swine flu vaccinations, paving the way for Cayman to receive its first batch of the inoculations.
The vaccination has been available in the UK, the US and in many other countries for almost two month, but by late December, Cayman was still awaiting delivery of the H1N1 vaccine.
In early November, the Cayman Islands Hospital opened a designated flu clinic to keep patients suffering from influenza separate from other people awaiting outpatient care.