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The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has put regional countries on alert for the Avian Influenza A (H7N9), also known as bird flu, that has killed at least 20 people in China.
“CARPHA...has specifically put all of us in the Caribbean on alert and what we have been asked to do is to intensify our surveillance systems for acute respiratory infections and submit any viruses that we cannot subtype,” said Barbados Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joy St. John.
“We have stepped it up to involve all doctors to ensure that if they see any unusual clinical pictures, any unusual displays of respiratory illness that they should alert us and send in samples of the nasal pharyngeal swabs with a clear travel history and all of the other required information.
“We have surveillance (for acute respiratory and severe acute respiratory illnesses) that has been going on for years. In the Caribbean region, we are very strong on this. So every week, the Epidemiology Unit checks how many of these cases we’ve had and we have sentinel sites around the island mainly through the polyclinics. “
Dr. St. John said that the health authorities have been getting daily reports on the International Health Regulations (IHR) focal points.
“As part of the normal system, we were already checking and then we have had alerts from WHO (World Health Organization) and back-ups from PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) directly on the IHR focal points and then now we have the overlay of the Caribbean putting us on alert and asking us to do specific things that we were already doing.”
Dr. St. John said Barbados is part of a regional network in addition to the PAHO Americas and WHO networks and that health officials had been “characterising and keeping a careful watch of all levels of illness”
She said while the Ministry of Health has not yet detected any strange patterns, “but as soon as we do we will ramp up our measures and inform as we always do”.
She that samples of severe acute respiratory infections reported by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, have been sent to the public health laboratory and any the information also submitted to CARPHA.
“So that they have a record of what are the viruses circulating in Barbados and they give us reports on what is circulating in the region. So that feeds into the PAHO and the WHO system that has been monitoring these viruses around the world,” she disclosed, adding that she was not aware of any cases of avian flu in other Caribbean territories.
The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said human infections with a new avian influenza A (H7N9) virus continue to be reported in China.
It said the virus has been detected in poultry in China as well and that while mild illness in human cases has been seen, most patients have had severe respiratory illness and some people have died.