KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent: – Minister of Health Dr. Douglas Slater on Thursday asked Vincentians to have confidence in the local health services as the country recorded its first case of H1N1, swine flu.
A woman who arrived in the country from Canada earlier this week tested positive for the disease, which has claimed two lives in the Caribbean.
She was treated at a local hospital and has since been discharged.
The virus surfaced here as the country moves into the height of the carnival season and World Health Organization (WHO) officials convened a meeting on the disease in Mexico on Thursday.
Dr. Slater described the 700 swine flu treatment packages in the country as “ample supplies”.
“Hopefully, we don’t have to need more but if we do it is within one day away from St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said.
Dr. Slater said H1N1 is a new disease and so far it has been “relatively mild”.
“Initially, there were high instances of death but that has significantly decreased. In our Caribbean region, we have now reported 116 cases with only two deaths in the Dominican Republic. So we ask all our citizens and visitors to be confident that we can manage the disease,” he said.
WHO statistics shows that as of Wednesday, July 1, there were 77201 cases of swine flu internationally, with 332 deaths.
Lessons learnt and preparedness
On Thursday, Dr. Margaret Chan Director-General of the WHO delivered the keynote speech at a high-level meeting on swine flu in Mexico.
The meeting focused on lessons learned and preparedness.
Dr. Chan said that the WHO had good reason to believe that this pandemic “will be of moderate severity, at least in its early days”.
“But we need to watch very carefully what happens during the current winter season in the Southern Hemisphere.”
She said the overwhelming majority of patients experience mild symptoms and make a full recovery within a week, often in the absence of any form of medical treatment.
“Most cases of severe and fatal infection continue to occur in people with underlying medical conditions. We are getting, day-by-day, better data on the specific conditions that place patients at heightened risk.”
Pregnant women, Dr. Chan said, are at increased risk of complications. She said this heightened risk is important for a virus like swine flu which preferentially infects younger age groups.
She said that while it was not yet clear why, some deaths were occurring in perfectly healthy young people and some patients experience a very rapid clinical deterioration, leading to severe, life-threatening viral pneumonia that requires mechanical ventilation.
She said that while nations should not alarm their populations if they are overly reassuring, patients in genuine need of treatment, where rapid emergency care can make a life-and-death difference, may be lulled into waiting too long.
She said that recommendations to avoid travel to Mexico, or to any other country or area with confirmed cases, serve no purpose.
“They do not protect the public. They do not contain the outbreak. And they do not prevent further international spread,” noting the WHO’s choice to hold the meeting in Mexico, the source of the outbreak.
Over 100 countries have reported cases of swine flu and Dr. Chan said “once a fully fit pandemic virus emerges, its further international spread is unstoppable”.
She said influenza pandemics spread throughout a world population that is either largely or entirely susceptible to infection and tend to hit a given area in the epidemiological equivalent of a tidal wave.
“In densely populated areas, we see a steep increase in the number of cases, with a sharp peak, followed by a steep decline. Once the virus has swept through a susceptible population, transmission may continue, but at a much lower intensity.
“In more sparsely populated areas, the peak may be flatter. Aggressive control measures can also flatten the epidemiological peak somewhat, but only for a while,” she said.
Dr. Chan said that when a new infectious agent causes an outbreak, it is nearly always the first country affected that suffers the most.