Swine flu vaccine expected as cases level off

| 13/08/2009

(CNS): Although health officials are reporting that the prevalence of flu cases in the Cayman Islands seems to be leveling off, they are warning of a possible surge when schools open at the end of the month. Preparing for that possibility they are focusing on an education campaign to limit the spread and a vaccination programme that they say will roll out as soon as an H1N1 and the seasonal flu vaccines become available. Medical Officer of Health Dr.Kiran Kumar said people can be vaccinated for the seasonal flu and the pandemic H1N1 flu at the same time.

Expecting the usual uptake on the seasonal flu vaccine, Kumar said in an ideal world he’d like to offer everyone the new H1N1 vaccine. “Of course we would like to be able to vaccinate our entire population, and we have asked for sufficient stocks to do this. However, due to the demand, the vaccine cannot be produced for the entire global population at one time. We will therefore vaccinate vulnerable groups first, and others will follow as per the UK Health Protection Agency guidelines,” Dr. Kumar explained.

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised its advice for how long those who are sick with the novel H1N1 virus should stay away from others.”The CDC has shortened the time period, which may reduce some of the pandemic’s absence burden on businesses and schools,” added Dr Kumar.

The new CDC guidance urges people with influenza-like illnesses to stay home at least 24 hours after they are free of a fever (without using fever-reducing medication). A fever is defined as 100°F and above and in most cases lasts from 2 to 4 days.

Earlier recommendations urged people to stay home for 7 days after the start of their illness or for 24 hours after symptoms resolve, whichever was longer.

Besides businesses and schools, the guidance also applies to camps, mass gatherings, and other community settings, the guidelines read.

“However, the new recommendations do not apply to healthcare settings. People working or visiting healthcare facilities should still observe the earlier, longer-period exclusion guidance,” Dr. Kumar cautioned.

“The CDC also emphasized that more stringent and longer exclusions may be needed for sick people who will return to settings where they have contact with people who have underlying medical conditions, such as camps for children with asthma or daycare centers and schools that children younger than 5 attend,” he said.

Also, people who have had influenza-like illness and then return to work, school, or other community settings should continue to practice good respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene and avoid close contact with people they know to be at increased risk of influenza-related complications.         “We will be reaching out to parents and teachers in the next few weeks, arming them with information on how they can help prevent the spread of the flu,” he added.

As such, the Health Services Authority (HSA) has boosted its public information resources with the addition of a flu email and message system – flu@hsa.ky — which will allow the public to get direct responses to their flu queries.  This complements the 24-hour flu hotline (926-2812) manned by HSA staff.

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