PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — The Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is urging people to practice good personal hygiene in order to reduce the risk of transmission of influenza and other respiratory viruses especially as the region prepares to host carnivals and other festivals.
It said that influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused mainly by two types of viruses: Influenza A and Influenza B.
“The Influenza A (H1N1) virus caused a pandemic in 2009. Although often referred to as “swine flu”, this name is misleading, as it is not spread by contact with pigs or pig products,” it said, adding that “Influenza A (H1N1) is a virus that continues to circulate around the world, including the Caribbean.
“Typically, the flu season in the region occurs between September and March when there is usually an increase in the number of persons coming down with the virus.”
CARPHA said that the flu is characterised by a sudden onset of high fever, cough (usually dry), headache, muscle and joint pain, severe malaise (feeling unwell), sore throat and runny nose.
“Most people recover from these symptoms within a week without requiring medical attention, but influenza can cause severe illness or death in people at high risk,” it warned.
CARPHA executive director, Dr C James Hospedales, said that the primary form of influenza transmission is through interpersonal contact.
He said that large social events like carnival, festivals and concerts can create serious public health challenges because people are often crowded together, sharing personal space and common areas.
“Given elevated flu activity in the northern hemisphere, combined with the high travel season to the Caribbean, it is important that people take the necessary steps now, to protect themselves and their loved ones from the flu.”
CARPHA said it was urging people to take proactive measures to reduce the risk of transmission of influenza and other respiratory viruses.
It said good hygiene measures that people can take include covering the mouth with a tissue or handkerchief, or using your elbow, when sneezing or coughing; safely disposing of used tissues, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after coughing and sneezing and before and after meal preparation, eating and using the toilets
“Vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent the disease. Safe and effective vaccines have been available and used for over 60 years. Vaccination is especially important for health workers and people at higher risk of serious influenza complications, such as the very young, pregnant women, the elderly and chronically ill persons, and for people who live with or care for high risk individuals,” CARPHA said.