Caribbean put on alert over bird flu

(Trinidad Guardian) BRIDGETOWN, Barbados—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. A report by quoted Barbados’ chief medical officer Dr Joy St John as saying: “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.

“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.” St John said 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 Organisation) and back-ups from PAHO (Pan American Health Organisation) 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,” she said.

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 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 said 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.

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