DR CARISSA Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said in a virtual media press conference on Tuesday that people in the Caribbean who contract the common flu and/or respiratory diseases during the hurricane season may be vulnerable to a more severe form of covid19.
Caribbean countries should also expect an increase in respiratory diseases which could be mistaken for a covid19 infection as the hurricane season approaches. And for covid19 patients, contracting flu while infected with covid19 can make it harder to treat the virus.
Etienne said battling the flu while treating covid19 put patients at greater risk and “the similar symptoms will make diagnosing covid19 even harder.” It’s now critical for countries in the region to closely monitor influenza cases, she said.
While PAHO doesn’t have data to prove the relation between temperatures and covid19, it is known that colder temperatures increase the likelihood of flu and respiration infections.
“If we know winter and colder conditions exacerbate respiratory infections as seasonal flu and pneumonia, it (covid19) can spread rapidly in colder climates.” She said someone with flu or respiratory diseases will leave them exposed and at a higher risk of contracting the virus.
“It also makes a challenge for already overloading health systems that will have to face a double load and cause a peak of the virus.” She said countries must now double up on their efforts towards mitigating the virus, “so that we reduce the dual burden as we approach the hurricane season,” noting the season may complicate anti-covid19 efforts in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
“It also means strengthening health infrastructure by hiring staff and expanding reserves of essential supplies and protective equipment.
This will help ensure the work done to prepare for covid19 is reinforced to address this season of threats.”
PAHO is encouraging countries to do early vaccination to prevent more flu cases, especially for high-risk groups, health workers, seniors and people with chronic diseases. Countries were asked to monitor influenza cases and provide vaccines outside health facilities.
Politicians in the region were asked to unite to focus on preventing the spread of the virus and preparing their country for the impact of what is described as an “above-average” and “active” hurricane season in 2020 by Colorado State University.
“This pandemic provides a good opportunity to pursue health as a bridge for peace. It takes courage and a sense of urgency to put aside political and ideological differences to reach an agreement to protect the lives of the people.”
She said this year PAHO secured 24 million flu vaccines and most of them have already been delivered to several countries.
“Now is the time to review national hurricane response plans and conduct stimulation exercises to ensure the disaster and covid19 responses are alive.” She said it is also important for countries to consider disruptions of care for critically ill patients.
“PAHO has already sent out guidelines to manage emergency shelters including precautions to minimise the spread of covid19 by designating zones to allow social distancing, regularly disinfecting areas and swiftly isolating individuals who show signs of the virus.”
PAHO is working on providing emergency response supplies to countries throughout the region to ensure the treatment of covid19 continues in the event of a natural disaster.
“Preparing for the hurricane season is a critical part of this fight. We must take action today to safeguard our progress and mitigate the spread of the virus during this time.”