Cayman’s flu season has hit the halfway mark and, so far, the Health Services Authority has administered 3,300 flu vaccinations, as well as diagnosed thousands of cases.

The season saw a record-breaking number of flu vaccines administered in the first two weeks.

“Each year, we order about 3,000 doses of vaccines,” said Joanna Rose-Wright of the HSA’s Public Health Department, adding that this year, the vaccination programme got off to a late start, but still administered 2,250 vaccines within two weeks. “There has never been a time when we have administered more than 2,000 doses in two weeks,” she said.

Rose-Wright suspects last year’s flu season may have been a significant reason why so many people are choosing to get vaccinated this year. In the last three years, the department has seen an overall increase in the number of people who were diagnosed with influenza symptoms. The latest data shows that 5,667 people were diagnosed with flu-like symptoms in 2016. That number grew in 2017 to 6,152 people. In 2018, doctors diagnosed 6,130 people with the flu. This means that in both 2017 and 2018, roughly 10% of Cayman’s population contracted the flu virus.

Timothy McLaughlin-Munroe, who is also with the Public Health Department, said Cayman’s flu season normally starts in September and often runs through to March.

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“What we normally see is a spike in the number of flu cases around September,” said McLaughlin-Munroe. “This is because a lot of people are returning to the island, several having contracted the virus while away on vacation. These people often then spread the virus.”

McLaughlin-Munroe said people should not confuse the regular flu with the mosquito-borne dengue virus.

“A lot of our negative dengue virus cases have turned out to be regular influenza cases,” he said. “So far this year, the virus has been a very strong strain and has left many people medicated and on bedrest.”

To combat the virus, the HSA is making vaccines readily available to the public through a number of means.

“We are out at supermarkets, we go to workplaces on appointments, as well as retirement homes,” said Rose-Wright. “Vaccines are available at district clinics, as well as at the private healthcare providers and, of course, at the HSA.”

Vaccines are free and can be administered to anyone six months and older. Rose-Wright says people with long-term non-communicable diseases should be vaccinated.

“People who suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and asthma should definitely get vaccinated for the flu,” she said. “People who also take care of the elderly, and/or young children should get their flu vaccines.”

Rose-Wright said pregnant women should check with their physicians before they get the vaccine. With more than three months to go before the flu season ends, the HSA said they will order as many vaccines as needed.

Flu shot myths vs. facts

Myth                                                             Fact
Not proven to prevent flu                       60% less likely to be infected
Vaccine can give flu                                  Viruses are inactivated
I should wait                                               Get it now; it takes two weeks for antibodies to  develop
Nasal spray is just as good                      Nasal spray is not effective
Protects against all types                        Protects against actively circulating strains

Source: University of Minnesota

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