More cases of H1N1 reported in Belize

Two additional confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus were reported in Belize City yesterday. That now brings the total confirmed cases to five. On Friday, the Ministry of Health confirmed three positive cases of HINI Influenza in the Corozal District. The cases included two males who had recently travelled to Merida, while the third is a pregnant female who resides in Chetumal. This morning, we spoke to Chief Epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health, Doctor Ethan Gough, who told us that the Ministry of Health is working to determine if the two additional cases point towards transmission within the country.

Dr. Ettan Gough, Epidemiologist at Ministry of Health: So last week Friday we confirmed 3 cases all from Corozal; all had some link to Merida or Chetumal. Two adults had travelled to Merida, and one reportedly lives across the border in Chetumal. As of yesterday morning we got two additional cases, these are from San Pedro, a female infant, and from Belize City, an adult. The ones in San Pedro and Belize City, we are following up. The public health inspectors in Belize are following up the case in San Pedro and Belize City to determine if there is any link to either them travelling across the border or family member that recently travelled across the border and came back sick but maybe wasn’t sick enough to seek medical attention or anything like that. SO we’re trying to figure out if those are linked to some history of if they are domestic cases. If they are domestic cases then we’re definitely dealing with transmission within the country.

Honduras has been reporting cases of the H1N1 virus since the month of May. As of June first, the Central American country reported 21 fatalities caused by the virus within the past two months. We asked Dr. Gough why a travel advisory was not issued after these reports. Here is how he responded

Dr. Ettan Gough, Epidemiologist at Ministry of Health: Tricky I think, because we don’t want to tell people don’t go to country A or don’t go to country B. The same thing happens to us sometimes, and sometimes it’s unjustified where we have  more developed countries issuing advisories to their citizens saying don’t go to Belize because Belize has Zika. When there is strong justification we do that, if not, we just try to prepare ourselves for any cases coming into the country. So the situation in Honduras was a couple months ago. They had what we would describe as an early flu season and then it turned out it was due to H1N1; the same H1N1 that caused the pandemic in 2009-2010, they did have some fatalities. Then more recently we got the media reports that there was an increase in influenza cases due to H1N1 in Yucatan. We didn’t get confirmation from Mexico that there were cases in Quintana Roo, there were media reports, but no official confirmation report from them that they had confirmed H1N1. That was one of the main reasons we hadn’t issued any advisories at that time.

. According to Doctor Gough, the first five confirmed cases have since been treated and released. While there have been no reported fatalities in Belize so far, Dr Gough says persons at high risk may include infants, pregnant women and patients suffering from a chronic disease.

Dr. Ettan Gough, Epidemiologist at Ministry of Health: One of the things about the pandemic in 2009-2010 that surprised everybody was that we were expecting a lot of fatalities. We were expecting that the virus would have been much more severe. It turned out that the virus cause a fairly mild flu. Some people got it and didn’t even know they had it. Where it creates a problem in terms of increased race for complication for fatalities is for people who are either very young, so less than 5, less than 2 years or very old. People with other cromabilities, people that have other chronic infections: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pregnant women, and anyone that has immunocompromise because of an HIV infection or because they’re on other medications that suppress the immune system. So those are the people that are at high risk.

Doctor Gough added that the Ministry of Health is closely monitoring the outbreak. He also indicated that tests can now be done in country, which reduces turnaround time and costs. 

Dr. Ettan Gough, Epidemiologist at Ministry of Health: We continue to monitor the situation, so far we don’t have any indication that there’s an increase in people seeking medical attention for flu like symptoms or infections. So, so far, nothing to say that there’s widespread transmission in the country so far, but we continue to monitor. The other positive thing is that the testing can now be done at the central medical laboratory so we no longer have to send specimens all the way to Trinidad, so there’s much reduced turnaround time now.

So what preventative measures can the general public take? Here are some suggestions made by Dr. Gough.

Dr. Ettan Gough, Epidemiologist at Ministry of Health: So the preventive measures are basically just reminding the public to adhere strictly to hand hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water especially before you’re touching the face, eyes, ears, mouth. Those are the parts of the body where the virus can enter the body.

. Symptoms may include fever, cough, body aches and difficulty breathing.

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