The Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) has announced that all tests for suspected cases of Swine Flu – influenza type A H1N1 as it has become known – in the region have been negative, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stressed that there is no reason to be afraid of consuming pork.
According to a statement on the CAREC website, “There have been no confirmed cases of influenza A (H1N1) in any CAREC member countries. Specimens are being received from possible suspected cases. Thus far, all tests have been negative for influenza A (H1N1)”.
However, CAREC continues to urge vigilance among residents of Caribbean countries.
“Persons experiencing influenza-like symptoms, especially following international travel, should be advised to seek immediate medical attention as guided by their Ministry of Health,” the statement advised.
Jamaican health officials have called on people who may have visited affected countries to seek medical advice, even if they are not displaying symptoms, which include a fever of more than 100 degrees, body aches, coughing, a sore throat, respiratory congestion and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhoea.
“If you have visited any of the countries now being affected by the virus, we would advise that, when you return, you advise the MOH (Ministry of Health),” said Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Sheila Campbell-Foster. “It is important that we know the country you have visited in the last two weeks because this would help us to take the most appropriate action.”
Campbell-Foster also urged nationals to re-consider all non-essential travel to affected countries.
Meanwhile, Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, Food Safety Scientist at the World Health Organisation (WHO), said at a news conference in Geneva that the virus “is not a food-borne disease”.
“You don’t get this disease through eating pork and, therefore, there is no reason to be afraid of consuming pork or pork products. From all the studies that have been done with influenza viruses – whether it’s avian influenza viruses, human viruses or swine viruses – they all seem to have more or less the same characteristics in terms of their heat resistance.
“As soon as you cook a product that may contain these viruses, they will get inactivated.
So consuming fully-cooked or well-cooked products, whether we’re talking about this virus in pork or avian influenza virus in chickens, there is no risk of getting infected that way,” Dr. Embarek said.
According to the WHO’s latest update Sunday, 18 countries have officially reported 898 human cases of the virus, which first emerged in Mexico. Mexico has reported 506 confirmed human cases of infection, including 19 deaths.
The WHO reiterated that the higher number of cases from that country in the past 48 hours reflects ongoing testing of previously collected specimens.
WHO spokesperson, Gregory Härtl, said the agency’s pandemic alert remained at Phase Five – on a six-level warning scale – meaning that sustained human to human transmission had been confirmed, with widespread community outbreaks in at least two regions.
He said it was not possible to say when the alert level might be increased to Phase 6.
“That is not very easy to predict because transmission of influenza A virus, or of any virus for that matter, does not necessarily always move at the same speed. There could be a hiatus in its spread; especially we have not seen any confirmed instances of sustained human transmission in communities outside of the Americas.
“We don’t know when that will happen. Certainly, we remain on alert in case that happens. But it would not be prudent to make a prediction in that regard,” he said.