With flu season already under way, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said respiratory infections are increasing and anyone with colds or coughs should isolate as a precaution until they are checked out by a medical professional.
“It looks like respiratory infections are rising, as they often do in the winter, so it looks like coughs and colds are going to come back and that’s going to confuse us,” Lee said Friday as he pointed out that the common cold, the flu and COVID-19 all share similar symptoms.
Lee, speaking at the COVID-19 briefing, advised those with cold or flu symptoms to take extra precautions “because it’s impossible to distinguish between them”.
He said at the first sign of coughs or colds, infected people should isolate themselves until they can be checked by a doctor. He advised them to call the flu hotline (947-3077 or 1-800-534-8600) to get advice.
The flu season started in September and, according to the Health Services Authority, 97 cases were recorded that month, with an average of 24 per week.
Last year, Cayman ended 2019 with 6,474 cases of influenza-like illnesses – an average of 125 cases per week. In December, 640 cases with ‘flu-like symptoms’ were recorded. The following month, 816 cases were recorded, Public Health Surveillance Officer Timothy McLaughlin-Munroe said.
He said Cayman had a very active flu season in 2019 and that trend is expected to continue this year.
“The weekly cases of influenza-like illnesses varied from week to week  as we transitioned throughout the year. The lowest number of cases reported to the Public Health Department per week in 2019 was 50 cases; the highest was 224 cases,” he added.
The HSA is expected to begin its education campaign for flu vaccinations soon.
Already, Health Minister Dwayne Seymour has urged members of the public to get vaccinated.
Flu shots are expected to arrive mid-October and, as customary, public-education information and other collateral will be disseminated, the HSA said in response to queries from the Compass.
The flu vaccine, once it is available through the HSA this year, will be free to all residents.
“The flu vaccine is more important than ever this year with COVID-19 in circulation. To help reduce transmission of the flu and protect the Islands from the double threat of flu and COVID-19, it is important that persons take up the offer to protect themselves and others,” Director of Primary Health Care and Medical Officer of Health Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez told the Compass.
He said everyone who is 6 months of age and older should get the flu vaccine.
“It is especially important for people who are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or people who live with or care for them,” he added.
Earlier this year, the HSA opened dedicated flu clinics in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac to address the influx of flu cases and also to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The opening was predicated by the 170-200 patients being seen at that time.
The clinics have since been closed.
“With the reduction in the government’s COVID-19 pandemic-suppression levels and fewer patients seeking treatment for COVID-like symptoms, the Health Services Authority closed its flu clinics in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac, effective 4 July,” Williams-Rodriguez said.
Anyone experiencing flu or respiratory symptoms – including fever, cough or shortness of breath – can seek care at the Acute Care Clinic in the George Town General Practice Building or the Accident and Emergency Department, which is open 24/7 in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.
“However, the HSA’s 24-hour Flu Hotline remains operational, and persons with flu-like symptoms should call 1-800-534-8600 or 947-3077 prior to going to Accident and Emergency. Professionals will be available to provide advice and direct persons to the appropriate care and resources,” Williams-Rodriguez added.
Lee has said that while Cayman’s COVID-19 risk is low, it is not zero, and therefore vigilance must continue, especially when positive cases are still being recorded from those coming into the islands on inbound flights.
Seymour, on Friday, reminded the public to exercise best practices for maintaining personal hygiene.
“We all have a responsibility to uphold the COVID-19 coronavirus prevention and protection measures currently recommended by local and international health authorities,” he said.
Public Health recommendations
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. A helpful tip is to carry a pocket-sized hand sanitiser and use frequently when out and about.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unclean hands.
- Consider wearing a mask while visiting other people’s homes, especially the elderly and vulnerable.
- Maintain 6 feet distance from other groups as much as practical.
- Stick to your social groups (the friends you usually see at home or at school). Avoid moving between groups of friends. Social bubbles have been found to help prevent spread of COVID in other countries.
- Do not go to work, school or visit others if you are unwell or believe you have been in contact with someone who is unwell.