Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Francis Martin, has revealed that the increase in deaths late last year in Grenada, which many speculated was due to COVID-19, was due to H1N1 (swine flu).
Responding to a question on a local radio programme last week, which asked if the Ministry of Health is ‘dismissing the fact that in November/December there was COVID-19 in Grenada when people died from pneumonia,’ he responded, “Indeed, there was an increase in deaths in Grenada, deaths from pneumonia, during that period of time.”
Dr Martin 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 Organisation (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.”
According to Dr Martin, just over 10 samples were sent for testing. Our investigation revealed there were over 15 pneumonia related deaths during the aforementioned period.
In the last two months of 2019, neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago documented several deaths due to this influenza virus and as of February 2020, 40 related deaths were recorded.
In January, The Grenadian Voice asked Health Minister Hon Nickolas Steele about the measures in place at Grenada’s ports of entry since persons frequent both islands and the expected influx travelling from Grenada to Trinidad’s Carnival in February.
In response, the Minister noted that “H1NI has been in Trinidad for quite some time [and] like any communicable disease there is going to be surveillance.” He stated that Grenada stepped up its surveillance at its ports of entry, mainly due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19), which originated in Wuhan, China in December 2019.
It was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in January and then a pandemic in March.
The Health Minister then advised persons to be cautious and if they exhibit any symptoms to let health care workers know if they are in Trinidad or Grenada.
Dr Martin told this newspaper on Tuesday that H1N1 remains a concern to local health officials.
H1N1 influenza is a contagious respiratory disease that causes symptoms of seasonal influenza in people. It is spread from person to person and is transmitted to other people by exposure to infected droplets expelled by coughing or sneezing that can be inhaled, or that can contaminate hands or surfaces.
To prevent the spread, the WHO advises people who are ill to cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, stay home as much as possible, clean their hands regularly, and maintain some distance away from healthy people.
People infected with H1N1 can spread it before showing any symptoms and up to seven days after getting sick. Children can be contagious for as long as 10 days.
H1N1 symptoms range from very mild illness or no symptoms at all, to severe pneumonia which can result in death.
Fever (High fever over 38°C/ 101 F)
Headaches and body pains
Fatigue and tiredness
Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea,
Severe illness can include pneumonia, pain in chest when taking a breath, respiratory failure and death
In children emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
• Fast breathing or trouble breathing
• Not drinking enough water or other fluids
• Not waking up or not interacting
• Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
• Vomiting and diarrhea
• Other conditions like diabetes or asthma that get worse
In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
• Sudden dizziness and confusion
• Severe or persistent vomiting
The name “swine flu” was initially used to describe this type of influenza because laboratory tests showed that this strain of flu virus was made up of genes that were very similar to the ones that caused influenza among pigs (swine).
However, it is now known that the H1N1 flu virus is made up of genes from several different flu viruses that normally circulate among pigs, birds, and humans.
This strain was the most common cause of influenza in 2009, when it caused a worldwide pandemic.