By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
LOCAL health officials have seen a rise in the number of reported flu cases in the country, with one expert warning Bahamians to stay alert and up to date with their influenza vaccinations before heading into the holiday season.
Dr Felicia Greenslade, head of the Ministry of Health’s National Surveillance Unit, told The Tribune yesterday that officials started seeing an increase in flu-like cases, particularly Influenza A, in early November.
The increase comes at a time when COVID-19 cases continue to be on the downward trend in the country.
“So, this only speaks to the early part of November. We haven’t got an update since then, but we saw basically, our COVID numbers basically dropping off and our Influenza A specifically showing quite an increase, Influenza B is there, but it’s even less than the COVID numbers,” she said.
“So, we’re noticing this trend in terms of increasing flu numbers and less of the COVID, but persons need to still be mindful what you can do to prevent COVID is the same thing that you would do to prevent flu.
“Like when you’re talking about good respiratory hygiene, you’re covering your coughs or sneezes with your elbow or with a disposable piece of tissue, keeping your hands clean after sanitization and for those who are more inclined toward it, you can even continue to wear your mask, if you wish, but the best thing that we will advocate for us to do at this point in time is to be vaccinated.” Dr Greenslade added.
“You can get your flu vaccine at any government clinic. They are free of charge at any of our government facilities. And you just go and you get it. I don’t think you even have to register at the clinic to get a flu shot. And it’s there for children as well.”
Recent reports from the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) have also noted a growing number of flu cases this season, with over 40 states reporting “high” or “very high” levels of influenza-like activity.
Last month, Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) director Dr Carissa Etienne warned that cases of seasonal influenza were on the rise in the region “following two years of below-average activity” and urged countries to remain on guard.
Yesterday, Dr Greenslade suggested that the uptick in flu cases this year was not surprising given the recent relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions which limited movement and social interaction during the pandemic.
“You would see an increase because if you look up what was happening last year, persons weren’t moving about, persons were in their home and persons weren’t coming out like that and so you had a good degree of social distancing,” she added.
“You only interacted with the persons in your immediate household. So, we actually had little to no flu in the years of COVID. So now we’re seeing this increase, because again, there’s a bit of naivety to our systems. We’ve all been locked up for a bit, not to use that term, but we’ve all been in for a bit.
“The beauty of the flu virus, like other viruses, it mutates, but as you get your exposure each year, you keep a degree of experience and exposure towards it. We haven’t had that so there’s a degree of naivety to our systems as well, so we anticipated we actually did as we spoke about it within the unit, we anticipated seeing a good amount of flu cases.”
According to Dr Greenslade, no local deaths have been confirmed to date due to the respiratory illness.
However, she was also clear that this doesn’t mean people can let their guards down and again reminded everyone to get their flu shots.
“Historically, we’ve been challenged with getting our public to take the flu vaccine,” Dr Greenslade added. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there. The same thing that I tried to clear up - persons actually saying they took it and got sick, but what they’re not understanding again is the timeline that they may have been exposed prior to getting their vaccine.
“Every vaccine that the government brings in is vetted and approved for safety first, we don’t just say, ‘okay, we’ve got to bring this in.’ We have our experts in country, as well as persons who we confer with regionally and internationally and the decision is made based on all the safety parameters that are in place - where the vaccine would have been made, the components of it to make sure what we are asking for is exactly what we’re getting.
“There’s a whole board that sits and makes sure that is the case so whatever is being brought into the country is safe and it’s not just safe. It’s efficient and effective. So, Bahamians can have confidence in the vaccines that are being brought in, especially with this flu vaccine.”
The flu season usually starts in late September or early October and ends around March, according to local officials.
Some doctors have already started seeing an increased number of patients with flu-like illnesses, with some complaining of worsened and longer symptoms.
However, local officials were unable to confirm that this year’s flu-like symptoms are worse compared to previous years.