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SVG still on alert for H1N1 ‘SWINE FLU’

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29.MAY.09

About a month ago, seemingly overnight, our world changed. Swine flu had broken out in Mexico (today we know it as H1N1).

Soon thereafter, fears of a global pandemic flooded the news. When we switched on our radios and televisions, we were inundated with news of its rapid spread.{{more}} We were reminded of the importance of personal hygiene, such as proper hand washing and how to sneeze in public. We were also told of geographic locations to avoid, and even that we should not travel (at least to some countries) unless it is absolutely necessary. Locally, the government spared no effort in its response. The surveillance team went into full gear – public health personnel were stationed at the various ports of entry, arriving passengers were required to complete and return a surveillance form, information brochures were distributed, and much more.

Today, mere weeks after, the story doesn’t seem nearly as worrisome as when it first broke out. Did we panic for nothing, or have we been lucky so far? To find answers to these questions, this writer spoke to Chief Medical Officer Dr. St. Clair Thomas. The first question I put to him was: “Have we been over cautious?” Dr. Thomas responded with an emphatic no. According to him, if we did not take the kind of action we did, and a case was imported, then the public would have been merciless, and rightly so, in their criticism of the Ministry’s lack of preparation. Dr. Thomas is satisfied that this country’s response is in keeping with that of international standards required in responding to an outbreak of this nature.

While the disease has not been making the news nearly as often as it did, when the story first broke, Epidemiologist within the Ministry of Health and the Environment Dr. Jenifer George is quick to point out that World Health Organization (WHO) still has the world on high alert (stage five to be exact), not because of the number of cases, but more so because of the ease with which the disease can spread. In light of this, Dr. George says that the Ministry of Health and the Environment will continue its surveillance response, mainly at the ports of entry.

Environmental Health Officer and coordinator of the local surveillance team, Lennox Doyle, cited the use of the surveillance forms as one of the most important response activities. The forms are issued by the stewardess on the aircraft (if none is available on the aircraft the passenger can pick one up at the immigration desk) and must be completed by all arriving passengers and delivered to the immigration officer. Very importantly, the form has a perforated stub that the passenger should keep; this has contact information for the passenger to get in touch with the public health authority in the event that he experiences any flu-like signs and symptoms within the first week of arrival.

While the Ministry continues to do its part, individuals also have a role to play. Here are some of the things that you can do:

If there is an ill person at home:

  • Try to provide the ill person a separate section in the house. If this is not possible, keep the patient at least 3 feet in distance from others.
  •  Cover mouth and nose with a mask when caring for the ill person.
  •  Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly after each contact with the ill person.
  •  Keep the environment clean with readily available household cleaning agents.

What should I do if I think I have swine influenza?

If you feel unwell, have a high fever, cough and/or sore throat:

  • Inform family and friends about your illness and seek medical help.
  •  Avoid/minimize contact with crowds as much as possible (e.g. school or work.)
  •  Rest and take plenty fluids.
  •  Cover your mouth and nose with disposable tissues when coughing and sneezing and dispose of the used tissues properly.
  •  Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol based sanitizers are also effective.

If you need medical attention:

  • Contact your healthcare provider before visiting them and report your symptoms. Explain why you think you have swine flu. For example if you have travelled to a country where there is swine flu outbreak in humans, or come into contact with someone who was there.
  •  If it is not possible to contact your healthcare provider in advance, communicate your suspicion of having swine influenza immediately upon arrival at the healthcare facility.
  •  Take care to cover your nose and mouth during travel.
  •  Be prepared to give details on how long you’ve been feeling ill and about any recent travels.

Remember that the symptoms for swine flu are almost identical to those you might experience with the regular flu. Only your doctor can give you the correct diagnosis.

For more information, contact your healthcare provider.

Submitted by staff member, Health Promotion Unit
Ministry of Health & the Environment.

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