The Ministry of Health yesterday reported that Jamaica had three confirmed cases of a new strain of the influenza virus which recently caused deaths in some Caribbean islands.
Dr Marion Bullock DuCasse, director of emergency, disaster management and special services in the ministry, said there were sporadic outbreaks of the influenza virus, including the sub-type A (H1) pdm09, which causes respiratory illnesses, and can be fatal.
Three cases were confirmed in the last four weeks, but no deaths have been reported. None of the cases so far involve persons who travelled from the Caribbean countries that have reported the deadly influenza cases.
According to DuCasse, the virus sub-type is seen occasionally during Jamaica's influenza season, which usually runs from October to May the following year.
The symptoms of this flu virus include fever, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, headache, body aches, and fatigue. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea may also be experienced. Persons with flu-like symptoms are being advised to stay home and take regular influenza medication until they recover. If symptoms persist or worsen, however, they should get immediate medical assistance.
Persons are being advised to cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing to limit transmission of the virus, and to wash their hands regularly with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
Influenza a critical concern
The Jamaica National Influenza Centre (NIC) at the University of the West Indies in St Andrew is noting that with its ongoing, creative ability to mutate and change, influenza (commonly known as the flu) continues to be a critical concern that requires constant monitoring.
The virus' continuing mutation is evident by the notification by the Chinese health authorities to the World Health Organisation of a newly emerged influenza virus in February 2013. Called influenza AH7N9, this is yet another potential threat to the world.
According to data from the NIC, one cough alone produces approximately 3,000 droplets of saliva, and a sneeze as many as 40,000 droplets. When a person with the flu sneezes, droplets which contain the influenza virus travel at a speed of more than 100 miles per hour.
The NIC, led by Director Dr Sandra Jackson, said, fortunately, the newly emerged influenza AH7N9 virus has demonstrated a limited ability to be spread from human to human. However, as of April 10 this year, there had been 28 confirmed cases, 14 severe cases and 10 deaths from the new strain. All reported cases were located in the east of China. This contrasts to the relatively mild respiratory presentations of the 2009 influenza pandemic.
In Jamaica with a population of 2.9 million, influenza infects an estimated 200,000 to 290,000 Jamaicans each year. Approximately 75,000 persons seek medical attention at one of the 78 sentinel sites of the Ministry of Health, located across Jamaica.
The NIC is advising persons to visit the Pan American Health Organisation website: www.paho.org/influenzareports to keep up to date with current circulating influenza viruses in Jamaica and the Americas.