Mystery illness affecting mainly tourists identified
Turks and Caicos authorities get additional assistance from CAREC and PAHO.
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands, Wednesday June 06, 2012 – Epidemiologists at the Trinidad-based Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) have identified the mystery illness that has sickened scores of people, mainly tourists, and caused widespread concern and speculation at resorts in Providenciales.
The Turks and Caicos Islands’ (TCI) Ministry of Health and Education (MOHE) and Environmental Health Department (EHD) said in a press statement that laboratory tests conducted at the CAREC Reference Laboratory have confirmed norovirus as the cause of the outbreak.
Noroviruses, loosely referred to as “the hospital sickness” in some parts of the world, are transmitted directly from person to person and indirectly via contaminated water and food and are highly contagious.
Outbreaks often occur in closed or semi-closed environments, including hospitals and cruise ships, where the infection spreads rapidly either by person-to-person transmission or through contaminated food. Many norovirus outbreaks have been traced to food that was handled by a single infected person.
The infection usually requires little medical intervention other than supportive therapy and mostly resolves without incident.
Investigations by public health authorities in the TCI are ongoing. The local team has recently been strengthened with the arrival of Dr Lisa Indar, food-borne diseases manager at CAREC, and Leslie Edwards, an epidemiologist also from CAREC. Additional assistance is being provided by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) in the form of two environmental health officers with extensive experience working with the hotel industry.
Infection control measures promoted throughout the TCI focus on proper hygiene, deep cleaning and sanitization, vital to prevent the spread of norovirus. Public health teams continue to conduct active surveillance at airports and affected hotels to educate and monitor the implementation of these measures.
The Ministry of Health and Education (MOHE) and EHD have encouraged the public to practice healthy hygienic measures at all times, such as frequent hand washing, especially when preparing meals, before eating and after using the toilet.
Anyone experiencing diarrhea, abdominal pain or vomiting has been advised to report to the nearest health care facility. Health surveillance team members continue to interview persons experiencing such signs and symptoms.
Meanwhile, the T CI Tourist Board has emphasised that TCI tourism remains open for business. Except for one or two properties on Providenciales, all airports, resorts, cruise port and auxiliary services across the country are providing the usual friendly and professional services that have become a trademark of Brand TCI.
“We would like to encourage the travel public to be guided by official statements issued by local government and tourism officials on this subject,” the board said in a statement.
“The entire country remains appreciative of your patronage and understanding during this period and we wish to reassure you that the Turks and Caicos Islands is a safe and warm destination to visit,” the statement concluded.