Ambergris Caye Caye Caulker HELP! Visitor Center Businesses Lodging

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Joined: Oct 1999
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The H1N1 scare emerged in April; public interest and concern peaked in May, waned in June, further receded in July and it just about fell off the public awareness radar by the end of August when only 30 confirmed cases had been recorded. But no more, h1n1 is back in the headlines tonight because 5 schools in Caye Caulker Village have been closed and now the ministry of health is asking village leaders to cancel all mass gathering for the next few days.

The call comes after 139 students at the primary schools started showing flu-like symptoms since school re-opened at the end of August. That's a third of the school population; add that to half the teachers being sick â�" and you got justifiable cause for a shutdown. But the Ministry of Health today held a press conference to say that they hope to stop the spread by suspending public gathering â�" because for an infection explosion like this one, just closing down the school isn't enough.

Dr. Michael Pitts, Director of Health Services
�What we have observed is that there is a significant outbreak of flu like illness in one high school affecting a significant part of that high school and we feel that because of that we needed to take some measures to try and interrupt the spread of the flu like illness. In our mind epidemiological we have to treat these as if though they are H1N1. What he had to do, what we recommended for Caye Caulker is that they have a suspension of school activities.

Melinda Guerra, Acting Regional Manager - Central Health Region
�Most of the students presented mild flu like illness, signs and symptoms. They have been treated and sent home. We have a few of the students and also six teachers were six out of a total of twelve teachers. They have been treated too and I must add that treatment is taking place both at the Caye Caulker Health Center and by the private doctor in the village.

Dr. Michael Pitts,
�What was occurring in Caye Caulker was that during the early part of September we saw maybe two cases on one day, three on another day, seven on another day but over the fourteenth and fifteenth we saw a jump to where we had 50 cases in one day and we said hold on, we have to take some drastic action. In addition to that those fifty cases were in one small population group, one school, so there was some rapid spread there so we had to do something to interrupt that.

Ethan Gough, Epidemiologist
�Closing the school by itself might be ineffective unless other measures are taken to minimize the possibility of transmission from those who are ill to the general population.

Dr. Michael Pitts,
�What they have done beyond the school is ask the village council if they can suspend the major family gathering that will bring kids to get with the wider population. In Caye Caulker they have a standing population of 2.500 and there is only one major primary school and it is our view that the primary school is basically a reflection of the whole village and essentially just about every household there would have some kid who would have been exposed.

So what we're saying to Caye Caulker is let's try and interrupt this epidemic and for the next couple of days, suspend major gatherings that will bring family units together. The ones that we think should be off are the school parade, certainly the flag raising ceremony.

But I think with what we are doing, we can interrupt quickly and within another four or five days things should be able to return to normal activity. We are basing our action on what we view as an incubation period. So we are taking a step to say for the period of incubation let's try to do this and try to interrupt the transmission.

Dr. Jorge Polanco, Deputy DHS
�We scrutinize very much the data collected from Caye Caulker over the last few days and we are of the opinion that for sure there was one or two index cases that could have brought, that most likely brought this infection to the island. This is just our suspicion right now looking at the preliminary data but every epidemic of this nature, this is how it behaves. You only need one person to get infected to go back to that community and diseases like this will spread very quickly because it's person to person contact.

Caye Caulker has two preschools, one primary school and two high schools.

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Marty Offline OP
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The Effect on Caye Caulker

And that’s one good thing to report particularly when tourism numbers are already down. It will most directly affect Caye Caulker – which may be recorded in lore as a fishing village but is really a tourism village. And with the word now going out that it’s being suspected for an h1ni1 outbreak – that can’t be good for that village’s already struggling tourism industry. Pitts said health comes first.

Dr. Michael Pitts,
“What we are saying to them is we have an outbreak of a flu like illness on that island that you want to go to. It is the same way we say when you had it in Cancun they said listen, you have to be aware; you will make a choice but the advice for people is that if you have an area with don’t go for the period that we will tell you that you have the outbreak. It is the same way we say don’t go to school for the period and then Caye Caulker if we have an outbreak then maybe for the next three or four days you redirect your attention, go to another place. It will have the impact but we have to concentrate on the health concert.

It is a little more difficult with some of the clubs and discos but even there we are saying to adults listen, if you have flu like symptoms don’t go and congregate. Business people who are running discos and clubs and so on, if you see people in your place of business with cough symptoms, ask them to excuse themselves.

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Caye Caulker on Edge

And while there has been no official confirmation of the H1N1 virus on Caye Caulker - today we found the community of just over one thousand, 8 hundred villagers on edge. Schools were closed, September celebration activities cancelled, and tourism in limbo, no one knew what would happen next. Keith Swift has the story.

Keith Swift Reporting,
Today Caye Caulker was on alert for H1N1. Government workers and street vendors were wearing masks and villagers with flu like symptoms sought assistance from a doctor stationed at the island’s community center. Ermino Cho was one of those villagers.

Ermino Cho, Caye Caulker Resident
“I have a real bad cough, dry cough, it hurts me and it is dry….it gives me a hot fever. For three nights I couldn’t sleep very well.”

Ground zero for the outbreak is the Caye Caulker Roman Catholic Primary School which has been shut down since Monday. Principal Beatriz Chan says that more than one hundred of her three hundred students are sick.

Beatriz Chan, Principal – Caye Caulker RC School
“From the first week I’ve been sending home children like at a dozen children every day, ten to twelve children, and it wasn’t normal and I was wondering what was happening to our children and so on Monday our private doctor phoned me and asked me how are the children at school because a lot of parents are taking children to him that have fever and I told him that well here it is the same, I’ve been sending them home with hot fever with vomiting, with headaches and it is not normal for us.

We have one third of our children have been affected with this virus and the last count we did was 139 children and we have 339 in all and so due to this fact and it is spreading so rapidly among them, because the parents keep sending back the children, and then they are spreading it and its spreading so rapidly, they have decided to close down the school for this week and see how it goes.”

Early this afternoon, classes were still in session at Ocean Academy - one of the island’s two high schools. The school later made a decision to close. Principal Heidi Curry says that 6 of her 32 students were already sick.

Heidi Curry, Principal – Ocean Academy
“We have had students who’ve been sick. In the beginning it was like any other situation where there was no reason to be worried but now we do have several students out. So like I said we are speaking with the health officials so we get official word and instruction on what to do.”

And along with suspension of classes, Village Chairman Ralph Humes says that as of now – all public gatherings on the island will be postponed.

Ralph Humes, Caye Caulker Chairman
“We will need to postpone or cancel some of our September celebration activities. So far we had already cancelled out the children’s rally that should have taken place on the 18th of this month and a vary of other sporting events. Our ceremonies and road march and carnival parade will be discussed at a meeting tonight with the celebration committee and then we will decide which will be postponed and which will be cancelled. The Ministry has encouraged us to disregard whatever mass gatherings that we would be having because they don’t want the outbreak of this flu to spread in the whole community.”

But the effect of the H1N1 scare may affect how this island community makes its money, tourism. Villagers are concerned that the H1N1 scare will scare tourists.

Ralph Humes,
“It will definitely have a big effect on tourism. Since this morning we had some concerns from some of the restaurant owners and even the hotel owners asking us if we were going to close down the island. Of course we are not going to close down the island but we have to make people aware of what is happening on the island. It will affect them to a certain extent but like I said, that is the most money making product of our island but at the same time we need to secure people’s lives and people’s safety.”

The Caye Caulker Village Council was scheduled to meet this evening to determine their next move.

Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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H1N1 vaccine won't reach the Jewel anytime soon And in respect of treatment, there is a vaccine that has been developed internationally for the H1N1. The U.S. based Center for Disease Control's Prevention advisory committee made recommendations today for who should receive use of the vaccine when it becomes available, and to determine which groups of the population should be prioritized. But according to Dr. Pitts, that vaccine may be a long way off from reaching Belize.

Dr. Michael Pitts, Director of Health Services
"It is the period, the time to produce and I think already they are saying that they will have to prioritize who they give and I understand they look at high risk groups, for example, pregnant mothers and they look at health care workers and they have other priority groups. But it's the US pushing on one front, production and I believe parts of Europe is pushing. But by any means we would not have sufficient for the whole world. I think countries would be virtual pecking order to get this vaccine. To the same extent, for example, with the regular flu vaccine, we didn't really begin to use that until about two years ago on a wide scale and so we are not in a position to get it now and I don't see that likely even in a year or so. But in the meantime, what we are encouraging because of the fact that the cases are mostly mild, our system can respond to the mild cases. And if with the cooperation of the population, we try to limit our exposing persons to us if they are sick and by covering coughs, doing the necessary hygiene, taking the sensible steps, stay away from work, stay away from school, then I think we can manage."

When the vaccine is widely available in the U.S., the CDC recommends that it be distributed first to pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than six months of age, health care personnel, persons between the ages of six months through twenty-four years of age, and people from ages twenty-five through sixty-four years who are at higher risk for H1N1 because of chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

Joined: Oct 1999
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Precautionary measures at Caye Caulker schools
The normal hustle and bustle in Caye Caulker has ceased. Instead a certain quiet permeates with a threat that the illness affecting school children could be the H1N1 flu. News Five's Delahnie Bain returned to Caye Caulker today and has a report on how the island is coping with the threat.

Delahnie Bain, Reporting
The unidentified illness that swept the Caye Caulker Roman Catholic primary school is now suspected to be the H1N1 Influenza. While testing is still taking place, more schools are closing their doors to be on the safe side. In the island we found a deserted primary school and two high schools operating as usual. The principals told us what the situation is at their schools.

Heidi Curry, Principal, Ocean Academy
"In terms of our school, we have twenty percent of our students who are out sick. We cant be sure what it is. My understanding from them and from a doctor on the island is that there are no confirmed cases; they don't test for the H1N1. They have suspicions and we know that whatever is going around is highly contagious and people are getting sick but it's not as scary as it felt over the last several months watching the news about what the swine flu could be. So that's comforting. But we have to be sure that we're careful not to get our whole island sick."

George Ferrar, Principal, Caye Caulker High School
"I went to the health clinic this morning because I wanted to make sure it was okay for us to continue classes. We only had one student out of fourteen who came down with it over the weekend and it wasn't at school. We did have one boy stay home today just because he had a headache but he already feels better this afternoon. But he's staying home just to be extra cautious. So we went ahead and had class but I went directly to the health clinic to find the nurse and to find out what news we had from the health department. Mr. Flowers was there, the local health inspector and he said that we could continue to have class until further notice."

Although they are not reporting as many cases, both high schools have been taking steps to avoid the spread of the virus.

George Ferrar
"We've been cleaning up the classrooms right after class and a part of that cleanup includes spraying Lysol on the desktop and wiping it down. So we have a very good PE teacher who's very strict about those guidelines because look at the results, only one student sick and it wasn't at school. All the information that the health department gave us, we passed on to the students in case. He did give us H1N1 pamphlets and so we passed that on so they can take those precautions too."

Heidi Curry
"We just met with the health officials today and we're waiting fro news from them. I've told them we are ready and willing to do whatever instructions were given. We are giving information about the swine flu or about the H1N1 virus to the students and about keeping clean and sending home any students who show any signs of being sick. So it's highly possible that we will close but we are doing that in conjunction with the officials."

That was the position at Ocean Academy earlier today. But by this evening, they had decided to voluntarily close their doors. Meanwhile, Caye Caulker High School is closing Thursday to assist those that have already fallen ill.

George Ferrar
"We did decide that we were going to meet tomorrow-the students and the teachers-at eight o'clock because we want to have a little blessing march. Last night when I heard that the two preschools had closed down and the primary school had already closed down and it didn't look like we'd be able to have that much of a parade, I just asked the Lord what am I supposed to do and it came to me, well instead of having a little march where you walk past the houses of people that are ill, why don't you take care packages to them. have a march where they have care packages and you have the students deliver the care packages right to the doorstep."

The island will be quiet for the next few days and all Independence Day events have all been called off. Delahnie Bain for News Five.

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The Ministry of Health this morning addressed the recent outbreak of flu like symptoms in Caye Caulker. Health officials stated on Monday the sheer volume of infected people lead to a decision to close the Caye Caulker Roman Catholic School for the remainder of the week. Director of Health Services, Doctor Michael Pitts, says that the ministry is taking every precaution necessary.

Dr. Michael Pitts: Director of Health Services

"For the last week we have been following an outbreak of flu like illness in Caye Caulker and we believe yesterday that the numbers jumped dramatically and we had to decide along with the PTA in Caye Caulker to suspend classes at the only primary school there. Essentially what we had was one third of the students over the last week or so coming down with flu like illness and we thought it would be sensible to try interrupt that epidemic in the school. Similar to if you had a restaurant with people having diarrhea we would say close the restaurant for a day or so, we are saying that with the school. The other thing is that half of the teachers had flu like illness also so that put additional pressure, beyond that because that is the only primary school in Caye Caulker and the village has a population of 2,500 we discussed and said listen, let us try and suspend those events that would have taken the same students out into the community in major gathering. Our action is limited to Caye Caulker, I don't think there is any other situation that warrants the same thing." 

Melinda Guerra, Acting Regional Manager, tells us how the ministry has been handling the outbreak.

Melinda Guerra: Acting Regional Manager

"The Central Health Region has an active surveillance system in place where all the health centers report on a daily basis on all communicable conditions. Out of this is where we picked up 31st of August, we saw the first reported case in Caye Caulker and then we followed up the case and we found that last Friday after the PHI went to the island, he did a more in-depth investigation, he went to the school to find out exactly what was happening because we were seeing for example six cases one day, seven cases another day and then we decided to go into the school from where most of the cases were coming just to do a general investigation as to what is exactly happening and he determined that there are mild flu like illnesses, presenting symptoms such as fever, cough and cold, body aches, very non specific signs and symptoms. We investigated the case and we saw gradually we were having an increase and we kept informing the DHS office and then yesterday there was an increase of 50 students at the Caye Caulker Heath Center that then the epidemiologist in the Ministry of health Ethan Gough went there and he met with the village council, the principals of the school and someone from the business community, they met and they discussed the case. Added to that the principal reported that even though the students were being sent home they were still going out in the community and as you are aware now is the festivities they were going to be out so then that was another step that was taken where some of the events were closed until this coming Tuesday."

Doctor Pitts says that samples have been sent to CAREC and stresses the importance of basic hygienic practices.

Dr. Michael Pitts: Director of Health Services

"Basically the approach in sampling now has changed from April, where we sample severe cases. Severe cases are sampled and then we have a sentinel procedure where we have two sites, one in Corozal, one in Belize City where we send six samples a week to CAREC as sentinel and then for any severe case, we send samples. Previously we use to get a turnaround within 48 hours, on this new protocol it may take a week or so to get results from CAREC. Safety is the basic thing that we have been preaching before that listen, for anybody with flu like illness, stay away from work, stay away from major events, don't go to school, don't go to church, stay home until you recover. If you are out and you're coughing, cover your cough, wash hands, those are the basic things, very minimal things that we can do. It's flu like illness, H1N1 happens to be one of those flu like illnesses but basically H1N1 presents as mild flu like illness which is the pattern with seasonal flu so whatever we do in this situation will address H1N1 and any other cause of flu like illness."

Joined: Mar 2007
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Seems it has spread everywhere now. I caught it last week on a flight into London from Asia. Am still flat out.
Prob best it has spread round the island now as it will likely peak and then disappear by the end of October when the busier season begins again.

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Flu-like illness on Caye Caulker

The Ministry of Health is investigating an outbreak of flu-like illness on the island of Caye Caulker. Given the 3-5 day incubation period of flu-like illnesses, schools in Caye Caulker are closed and no public gatherings allowed through Monday, September 21st.

The Belize Tourism Board is working closely with the Ministry of Health to monitor this situation and support actions that reduce health impacts while minimizing the economic impact to the tourism industry on the island.

The public is hereby reminded that in order to prevent the spread of influenza including the H1N1, people suffering with flu-like symptoms should remain at home for the duration of their illness. If you present with symptoms you are advised to visit your nearest health care provider.


The following are some of the recommendations being provided by the BTB, as recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), to tourism businesses to promote safety:
Ensure a high level of sanitation in your property to minimize the spread of any infection. Health experts recommend frequent hand washing and use of alcohol-based hand cleaners. Cover your nose or mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as germs spread in this manner. Any employee who exhibits flu symptoms should stay at home, minimizing contact with others. If flu symptoms persist or worsen, seek medical treatment.
Maintain a level of concern, not panic. At this point there is no reason to discourage people from traveling to or within Belize. Individuals should be encouraged to take common sense steps to protect themselves including maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle with adequate sleep, proper nutrition, controlling stress and maintaining physical fitness.
Belize Ministry of Health:
The World Health Organization:
The Center for Disease Control:
Caribbean Epidemiology Center (CAREC):
Kind regards,
Tracy Panton
Director of Tourism

Joined: Jan 2008
Posts: 59
Wondering why no one is talking about this? Is the water taxi shut down and if not why not?

Joined: May 2000
Posts: 7,052
It's gone quiet because this is a big holiday weekend. People are busy relaxing, partying, traveling etc.

Haven't heard about the water taxi's being shut down.

I don't recall internation flights being shut down to prevent the spread of flu either.

People still have to travel so I doubt they will shut down the water taxi over the flu.

Some of my family just got over the swine flu (in the UK) it is pretty rampant over there as well as active in most of the western world - I am still surprised it took so long for us to get confirmed cases considering how close we are to the epicenter of infection.

I can imagine you are quite anxious to know what is going on because you will be visiting soon.

The island hasn't been "quarantined" so all I can suggest is keeping an eye on the news for now.

I hate flu season - every year - and this one is worse than those in the past. It is awful getting sick and to think that people can die from the flu is a terrible and sobering thought.

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