Acting Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Francis Martin, is clarifying what he deemed a misinterpretation of recent comments where his admittance to the increase in pneumonia-related deaths in the last quarter of 2019, was attributed to H1NI (Swine Flu).
On Wednesday, Dr Martin told The Grenadian Voice that in addition to his response to the caller on the local televised programme, he should have gone on to categorically say that the deaths were not from H1N1.
Dr Martin on the programme, in stating that the pneumonia-related deaths were not due to COVID-19 as suspected by the general public, said “Indeed, there was an increase in deaths in Grenada, deaths from pneumonia, during that period of time.”
He continued, “COVID-19 may have been around I am not denying that, but the fact of the matter is, during that time because we were concerned about the deaths, we collaborated with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and took samples from these patients and sent them to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States for testing. The results came back and showed that these patients had H1N1, not COVID-19.”
Statistics from the CMO indicate that in 2017 there were 25 pneumonia-related deaths and 30 in 2018. He said while the preparation of medical certificates isn’t yet completed for 2019 due to interruption because of COVID-19, the Epidemiologist expects the 2019 total number to be higher.
On Wednesday, the CMO told this newspaper, “There have been no documented deaths from H1N1. Everybody that we have taken samples from they have recovered.”
He added, “We had pneumonia causing deaths and we believe that may have been as a result of the regular circulating virus like Influenza but because we were concerned about H1N1 that’s why we engaged PAHO. Not those that have died but for the pneumonia [cases] we received, we picked those that we were seeing.”
According to him, just over 10 samples were sent for testing in November last year and the results were received “a few weeks ago.” On Wednesday, he was unable to say how many samples returned positive for H1N1.
Explaining why the results were received almost six months later, the Acting CMO stated that Grenada does not routinely send samples to the CDC. These samples were sent because the Ministry wanted to know which virus was causing the illnesses in patients. He said PAHO was engaged for assistance and advised that it was able to engage the CDC on Grenada’s behalf.
Grenada usually sends samples to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) based in Trinidad and results are received within days. But for this case, Dr Martin said, “there was no particular reason why CARPHA wasn’t engaged.”
Dr Martin said the Ministry cannot speak to a specific number for suspected H1N1 cases because “the samples were sent as routine surveillance to find out what was circulating in the region.” He noted that each year in flu seasons, countries conduct spot checks to see what viruses are circulating such as Dengue, Influenza A, H1N1 and other flu viruses.
“You do not quote numbers because we were not collecting data as we are doing with coronavirus (COVID-19). Everyone is not checked, every sample is not sent, so there is no magic number to look for,” he added.
The CMO said the Ministry continues to test persons for the known viruses (Chikungunya, H1N1, Zika, Dengue, Influenza), noting that each year a new one may be added to the list; for instance this year, COVID-19. He added that CAPHA is used for sample testing because Grenada does not have the capacity on island. However, this is the first time coronavirus is being tested on island.
Following the outbreak of H1N1 in Trinidad in 2015, Grenada pledged to implement all necessary legal measures to protect citizens.
According to Dr Martin, among the measures taken since then was the development of an Influenza Pandemic Policy and Plan, which formed the basis for Grenada’s COVID-19 response.
He said, “All the measures that you see for COVID-19 are the same measures for Influenza and H1N1 because it is also spread by droplets. So, it is the same wearing of masks, cleaning of hands, sneeze and hand etiquette.”
H1N1 influenza is a contagious respiratory disease that spreads from person to person and is transmitted by exposure to infected droplets expelled by coughing or sneezing that can be inhaled, or that can contaminate hands or surfaces.
H1N1 Symptoms include:
Fever (High fever over 38°C/ 101 F)
Headaches and body pains
Fatigue and tireness
Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea,
Severe illness can include pneumonia, pain in chest when taking a breath, respiratory failure and death