BASSETERRE, St. Kitts -- With many individuals in the Federation falling ill to coughs, sneezing, and other ailments, the Ministry of Health has confirmed the continued circulation of the flu and COVID at this time.
Since the Carnival period, there has been a noticeable increase in respiratory ailments, with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) confirming in its latest epidemiological report - published on January 8th - that "countries in the northern hemisphere are experiencing epidemic levels of acute respiratory disease associated with the circulation of three viruses, namely: SARS CoV-2 or COVID-19 virus, influenza virus, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)."
The health institution noted that within the Caribbean subregion, SARS CoV-2 activity has remained at low levels for the last four weeks. However, influenza activity and RSV activity are fluctuating at moderate levels for this same period.
Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Hazel Laws, in her press statement today (Jan. 14), revealed that in December 2023, there were no laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19. Between January 1 to 12, 2024, “the MOH has reported only seven laboratory-confirmed cases of SARS CoV-2 or COVID-19, one of which was imported, and the patient was airlifted shortly after hospitalization.”
This lines up with recent suspicions from tourism officials that the influx of visitors for the Carnival period from tourism source markets could be causing the increase in respiratory ailments.
In the media statement, Dr. Laws noted that the Ministry of Health continues to maintain its robust respiratory surveillance activities to monitor and detect any rise in respiratory infections. She added, “emergency room physicians on both islands are currently evaluating and investigating all patients who present with fever and respiratory symptoms, including headache, coughing, sore throat, loss of sense of taste or smell, shortness of breath, joint pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.”
As pointed out by the CMO, the steady rise in respiratory illness activity is a common annual trend that the MOH is continuously monitoring. “This trend is fueled by the flu season, the high influx of travelers, and the mass gatherings during the Christmas season and carnival celebrations. Respiratory illness activity usually peaks between January and March of each year.”
Against that backdrop, the CMO made several recommendations to protect against the flu virus:
1. Get an updated or seasonal flu or influenza vaccine shot. The Ministry of Health is recommending that health care workers, older adults, pregnant women and patients with chronic illnesses like diabetes and asthma, get an updated influenza vaccine at the soonest possible time. Influenza vaccines are administered at all health centers in the Federation.
2. Practice good hand hygiene. Wash hands thoroughly after exposure to high-touch surfaces
3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
4. Get prompt medical attention if you develop flu symptoms.
5. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing and sneezing.
6. Stay at home from school, work, church, funerals and any function or gathering when you are sick and experiencing respiratory symptoms.