Influenza, or simply “the flu”, is that nastiest of illnesses that creeps upon humans when they least expect it. Belize saw a massive scare in 2009 from the H1N1 or “swine flu” virus and there have since been cases officially reported. This week health authorities are reviewing the national plan to address not only the flu but other communicable diseases. We get more from Deputy Director of Health Services at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Jorge Polanco.
“The rationale is: you may be aware that in the Middle-east, they are having isolated outbreaks of the Middle-east respiratory virus, and we’ve had since 2009 to present, a series of variations of influenza outbreaks, starting with the H1N1, the H5N1, and so, we said it is timely as the Minister so decided for the region including Belize to review our plan. So, what we are doing is that we are looking at the different components of the plan, which includes surveillance in general; it includes the assessment and the services to be provided at the ports of entry, it includes risk communication for the general public, infection control within the health care facilities of the country, just to name a few”.
Dr. Polanco explains what the plan entails.
Dr. Jorge Polanco: “Right now we have the MERV, the Middle East Respiratory Virus. Since 2009/2010 we have developed in the country, and we have been strengthening it over time, a surveillance for influenza virus in general. We have what we call SARA, which is Severe Acute Respiratory Infections, that we monitor, in this case especially at the level of Karl Heusner, and we have something that we call ILI, which is the Influenza-Like Illness, where there are syndromes, usually viral syndromes, that could appear to be influenza. It could be any other viral, but under the influenza approach we monitor them. We should say that we have been able, through the survey, to detect different viruses across the population. We have detected the H1N1. We have detected Neural Virus, the Respiratory Sensitive Virus, and other respiratory viruses.”
Health practitioners continue to advise caution, but Dr. Polanco says Belize’s count of influenza cases is not very high.
Dr. Jorge Polanco: “The last count…we had a little over 12 confirmed cases of about 30 samples, but we have had other types of respiratory viruses. But those other types have been there…have been in the region for years. The new ones are the H1N1, the H5N1, but he numbers have been relatively small, but we’ve had them across the year. We’ve had them every year and as I said, this year we’ve had about… maybe 15 cases. The rest of the year is almost done, so, I don’t think we should have much more. But the importance is not how much numbers; the importance is that we want to detect them in a timely manner to be able to keep track of the virus”.
The review comes out of a decision by a recent conference of Health Ministers.