Deyalsingh: No flu deaths in two years

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this January 9, 2020 file photo, a flu vaccine is admistered to an employee at a workplace. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

There have been no deaths in TT caused by influenza over the past two years according to Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh.

During the Ministry of Health’s covid19 virtual update on Saturday morning, he said in 2018 there were 4,598 cases and seven deaths from influenza. In 2019, there were 3,854 suspected cases and 44 deaths, in 2020 there were 858 cases and no deaths, and in 2021 there were 115 cases and no deaths.

He added that, 55,221; 118,015; and 75,887 people got the flu vaccine in the 2018-2019, 2019-2020, and 2020-2021 flu seasons respectively, which runs from October to May.

“Because of the health protocols of wearing masks, cleanliness and so on, we had dropped to 115 suspected cases and we had no deaths…

“We were not congregating, we were masking, we were sanitising. But this year, as the coronavirus is there, the borders are now open… so people are travelling to North America and coming back here and we always follow what has happened in North America because that is one of our sources of the influenza vaccine (sic virus).”

Pulmonologist Dr Sana Mohammed explained that influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that affects the nose, throat and lungs. It is most contagious three to four days after symptoms but it can be passed on before a person gets symptoms.

“Influenza virus is spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or speak. These droplets then can land into the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often a person might get influenza by coming into contact with droplets on a surface that they touch and then touching their own mouth or nose.”

Symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, headaches, body pains, runny or stuffy nose, vomiting and diarrhoea, and can lead to hospitalisation or death. They are similar to those of the common cold but the two are caused by different viruses. Also, influenza symptoms are more intense, begin more abruptly, and can result in serious health complications like pneumonia and bacterial infections.

Vials of influenza vaccine. – File photo

High-risk people include those 65 years and older, children under two years old, people with comorbidities including asthma, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), blood disorders, lung, heart, liver, and kidney diseases, the immunocompromised, the pregnant, and others.

Precautionary measures to limit transmission include covering the mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and discarding, washing hands, avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth, sanitising surfaces and objects, and avoiding close contact with sick people.

“All these public health measures should be second nature to us during this covid pandemic…

“The best way to avoid getting flu is to have your annual flu shots. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and our Ministry of Health recommends that all persons over the age of six months have their annual flu shots. The vaccination has also been shown to decrease the severity of flu, to decrease hospitalisation, and in the case of children, to decrease the risk of flu-related death.”

Deyalsingh said through PAHO, TT has a quadrivalent vaccine which covers two influenza A and two influenza B strains. These vaccines are available at all health centres.

He encouraged all to get their flu shots, especially high-risk people, as well as frontline workers to keep the number of deaths from influenza at zero.

He added that, while the World Health Organization allows for the administration of the flu and covid19 vaccines at the same time, the ministry recommends people get their flu shots two weeks before or after getting the covid19 vaccine.

Also, those 60 years and over with NCDs can get their flu shots at the National Care Fair on October 29 and 30.