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Press Release

Respiratory Illness 2013.01.17 - Revised

There have been reports of an increase in influenza circulation in North America towards the end of 2012 and extending into 2013. Historically this increase in influenza activity in the United States of America has come earlier than expected. The predominant virus isolated has been influenza A (H3N2) followed by influenza B and influenza A(H1N1).

Data on cases of respiratory illness in Barbados from polyclinics, Queen Elizabeth Hospital and sentinel private sites is collected and analysed weekly to determine trends in respiratory activity. In recent weeks, surveillance of respiratory illness has so far detected no increase in levels of respiratory activity above what is expected among community and hospitalized patients.

Respiratory samples from patients in the community and the hospital are submitted locally to two government labs in Barbados that have the capacity to detect influenza and other respiratory viruses. Some samples are sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency for testing.

The two most common viruses isolated during the last 2 months of 2012 were Respiratory Syncytial Virus and Seasonal Influenza Virus Influenza A/H3N2. Other viruses isolated during this period included Influenza B, Rhinovirus and Parainfluenza virus. During the last 3 weeks of 2012 and the first week of 2013, Seasonal Influenza Virus Influenza A/H3N2 has been the predominant virus isolated among eight Caribbean countries.

Infection with viral respiratory diseases can be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy foods, getting enough exercise and rest as well as managing stress levels. Individuals should also wash their hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand rub can be used.

The Ministry of Health has made provision for the availability of Influenza vaccines in the public sector for health care personnel, public health institutions and front line staff. Vaccine is also available in the private sector. Influenza A (H3N2), influenza B and influenza A (H1N1) strains are included in the 2012-2013 seasonal influenza vaccine.

Viral respiratory diseases are characterized by fever with one or more cold symptoms such as chills, headache, body ache, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Infection with viruses in the respiratory tract can lead to complications such as tonsillitis, laryngitis, bronchitis or pneumonia. While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. Individuals with fever should avoid leaving their homes to go to work or to other public places until the fever has subsided. Individuals should stay at home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine).

Good personal hygiene is essential to preventing influenza viruses from spreading. The public is advised to

  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and drying with disposable tissue since this is the most effective way of reducing transmission.
  • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub
  • Keep unwashed hands away from eyes, nose and mouth
  • Cover one's nose and mouth with tissue when coughing and sneezing. This will block the spread of the virus from your mouth or nose.
  • In situations where tissue is not available persons cough into the inner side of the elbow as an emergency measure.
  • Throw used tissues in a bin or collect in a tied plastic bag
  • Frequently touched surfaces and objects such as doorknobs, keyboards, and phones that may be contaminated should be cleaned and disinfected.