KINGSTON, Jamaica, Monday February 18, 2019 – The Ministry of Health has placed Jamaica on influenza alert in light of the significant increase in the number of cases of fever and respiratory illnesses reported across the island.
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said that data collected over the past two weeks indicate an increase in a particular type of influenza.
Parishes showing a growing trend include Kingston and St. Andrew, Trelawny, Clarendon, Manchester, St. Elizabeth, and Portland.
“The flu is to be taken seriously, as it can lead to pneumonia and blood infections, and cause diarrhoea and seizures in children. The flu can also worsen chronic medical conditions such as heart or lung disease,” he said.
Dr Tufton said persons at greater risk of severe complications from the flu are infants and young children, adults 65 years and older, pregnant women and persons with chronic medical conditions or weakened immune systems.
With the activation of the alert status, the Ministry will enhance its public education campaign to reinforce good hand hygiene and emphasise respiratory etiquette; activate the enhanced infection control programme in hospitals and health facilities to prevent, control and investigate communicable diseases; and increase the stock of medication in hospitals and health facilities to respond to the increase in the number of persons hospitalised.
The Ministry will also expand the opening hours at health centres to provide access to at-risk populations, including the elderly and children under five years; and continue implementation of the overcrowding management plans for the major hospitals across the island.
Dr Tufton informed that 21,900 doses of influenza vaccine were purchased by the Ministry through the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Revolving Fund and distributed to parish health departments in late October 2018, and vaccination of target groups commenced in November 2018.
These include health workers; children and elderly with chronic illnesses; pregnant women, especially those on the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH); persons institutionalized or in State care; and non-health frontline workers.
He said people can access the vaccine from any public health centre/clinic free of cost.
Dr Tufton encouraged healthcare providers in the private sector to procure the influenza vaccine through private distributors to provide for the general population with emphasis on the high-risk groups.
“The vaccine can be had privately by members of the public from any general practitioner and paediatrician at a minimal cost,” he said.
Seasonal influenza is an acute viral infection that spreads easily from person to person, mainly by coughing, sneezing and close contact.