On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health issued a release cautioning Belizeans about the seasonal flu. Included in the update was that there was one suspected cases of H-one N-one pending confirmation. Back in 2009, the entire world was on the edge fearing the global pandemic of H-one N-one; so what is the situation now? All our neighboring countries have confirmed cases of H-one N-one. In tonight’s healthy living, we spoke to one specialist who is of the opinion that H-one N-one is most likely already here.
Dr. Cecilio Eck, Pediatrician
“The H1N1 is around in our neighboring countries, identified, isolated and confirmed. We get a lot of visitors every year at around this time of year and more likely than not H1N1 is in Belize.”
Marleni Cuellar, Reporting
In the past two years, the H1N1 virus has been detected in Belize. Currently the Ministry of Health is awaiting lab results to confirm if persons hospitalized with respiratory illnesses, are infected with H1N1. However, the hype and hysteriasurrounding H1N1 is significantlytamer compared to the 2009 reaction of the pandemic.
Dr. Cecilio Eck
“When it came out in 2009 there was a global pandemic, it was the first time this one could spread person to person because of the fear of the unknown. The known was that in 1918 there was a global pandemic that killed a third of the world’s population, and because of the unknown of the situation a lot of people were worrying. The statistics then showed later on that H1N1 was not as severe as they had first it would be, people still got severely ill, from the regular flu, you can die from it each year when there is an outbreak. With H1n1 it was found that it wasn’t the people who died weren’t the elderly or the kids or people with concomitant illnesses. It mostly affected persons who were middle age, statistics show, fat adults. So if you got H1N1 and you’re fat and middle age you have a higher mortality rate; you’re at a higher risk of dying versus if you had gotten the regular flu.”
Since the discovery of the new strain, flu vaccines now include coverage for the H1N1 subtype of influenza. The seasonal flu vaccine is administered across the country at public health clinics for free and at private clinics for a charge; but many Belizeans still don’t access it.
“In Belize, because the first time you get the shot there is a reaction to it, you get a flu like illness, you feel ill for a couple days, usually people don’t want to get the shot the following year. What I tell parents is you need to vaccinate your kids. They’ll go to school, they’ll get exposed, it is free at the clinics and you need to get the shot. Get vaccinated; it’s the best way to prevent it.”
Even with free access to the vaccination, each year during our flu season children and adults are admitted for care due to complications from the flu.
“At this time of year, yes, our wards are full. I’d say more than fifty to sixty percent are kids with infection in the lungs. And yes, what happens before that occurs will be a flu-like illness. I am one for primary care and I would always say take your vaccine; it makes a whole lot of sense. You won’t get sick. And even if you do get sick, it is a less serious illness. You need to stay at home. What will happen is at work or with the kids at school, you are not productive; you will not learn as much at school. And I call it spreading the love. It is very selfish for you to go to work or to school when you are ill because it is not productive any at all.”
The flu virus, although very common, should not be taken too lightly. Flu commonly affects the frail elderly and children but the H1N1 Influenza puts younger, middle age, overweight or obese persons more at risk for severe complications. Regular flu medicines can help you get rid of the flu but Dr. Eck warns, pay close attention to your body as severe flus lead to pneumonia which can lead to death.
“It is just a much more severe illness. So you will feel the flu symptoms but if you know your body well after a couple days you should be able to turn the corner. If you are not turning the corner, if you are not feeling better and the symptoms are getting worse, yes seek a health professional opinion as soon as possible. Certainly though, if the fever is prolonged, if it lasts more than three or four days, if you have the debilitating headaches, the sever joint pain, if the mucus you start to cough up becomes colorful—green, yellow—then yes you need to visit your health center or your physician as soon as possible.”
The Ministry of Health reminds the public that the flu can be prevented through: Washing your hands frequently with soap and clean water; coughing and sneezing into your sleeve and not your hands; keeping your hands away from your face; and keeping common surface areas (such as door knobs, counters) clean and disinfected.
On Tuesday a sample from the one victim was sent to CARPHA, the regional testing authority in Trinidad and it was expected back today. But when Monica Bodden caught up with the Director Of Health Services in Belize City this afternoon, he said no results were in just yet, but they do know - in a very broad sense - what they are looking at:..
Dr. Michael Pitts, Director Of Health Services
"We haven't gotten back the confirmatory test from CARPHA as yet, we are still waiting. Perhaps I might get that tonight or tomorrow but we do have preliminary testing that we were able to do here and out of the group of people that we were concerned with - we have a mixed pattern and we are seeing some group A influenza, some group B flu viruses. We see a group that we called Rhinoviruses, we see a group that we called Adenoviruses. After all of that said, those are the type of things that are tend to caused upper respiratory tract illnesses and flu like illnesses in the general population. We haven't able to confirm any of the worrisome viruses as yet."
"Right now I am saying the group of viruses that we have by the initial screen is a little comforting and the fact that those who have been having severe illnesses have what we called the premorbid (pre-existing condition) and those are the people we have to be careful with."
"What we note though a lot of flu like illnesses, there are certain people who are particular at risks to have severe symptoms and those people might be diabetics, people who have heart disease - people who are immune suppress for different reasons. Those are the people we think we have to be very careful with. The advice really is for those people if they have flu like symptoms, go to your doctor early."
"Of course I must say the elderly, you have your grandparents and so on; take special care with them and children under 5, have an extra eye out for them and we should work through this."
Tamiflu - which is used to treat h1n1 is currently available in Belize.
H1N1 was detected in Belize from last year, and authorities are hoping that the case that has tested positive for an "A" virus will be just that. There is some mild anxiety because other, more serious influenza strains - which are also A- type viruses - such as h5n1 and h7n1 have been showing up in Canada and China. We'll have an update on Monday.
Last week we told you about the influenza samples that the Ministry of Health sent to CARPHA, the regional testing center in Trinidad. Well the results didn't come back as expected on Friday evening, nor did they come on Saturday, Sunday or Monday. But they did come back today, and best reports say they aren't good. How bad are they? We can't say yet, because the Ministry of Health wants to disseminate the information clearly and in context at a press briefing tomorrow morning.
An official press invitation refers to the lab results and the management of the recent H1N1 Influenza cases across the country. As we reported, one person who died of acute respiratory distress at the KHMH in late December tested positive for influenza in a quick test - and other patients were showing similar symptoms.
By tomorrow, those blanks in the story should be filled in, and we'll have the full story, telling you what it all means for your health.
MINISTRY OF HEALTH CONFIRMS THAT H1N1 HAS BEEN CONFIRMED IN BELIZE. Of the five cases sent for testing at CARPHA in Trinidad, three were confirmed positive. Two females were treated and released from the Western Regional Hospital. The third was a 29 yr old female, Belize City resident who died earlier this month.
The release then clearly states, "Neither H1N1 nor any other Influenza A strain have been linked or involved with any of the severe respiratory cases that are presently hospitalized."
The release says that The Ministry continues to monitor the situation of flu-like illnesses across the country.
As we have reported, Belize recorded its first h1n1 death on January 6th, when 29 year old Shahera Bodden died from what appears to be an especially virulent strain of the virus.