No announcement yet.

Bahamas: Bird Flu Could Wreak Heavy Toll On Region

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Bahamas: Bird Flu Could Wreak Heavy Toll On Region

    3rd February (2006)

    Bird Flu Could Wreak Heavy Toll On Region

    Although influenza experts say the Caribbean is at relatively low risk for avian flu, officials have released a projection of how the region would be affected in the worst-case scenario.

    One estimate from the Pan American Health Organization theorized that over 515 million workdays could be lost if a moderate pandemic were to hit the region.

    A severe pandemic, it was reported, could increase that number to almost 730 million and the direct costs for this lost time could be $15 billion in the former case, or $21 billion in the latter.

    Officials reported that the region is at low risk since birds flying south from the U.S. are not believed to be intermingling with birds heading to American from Siberia, where one of the latest outbreaks occurred.

    The current perception of low risk could change, however, given the presence of the H5N1 strain of the virus in Canadian waterfowl, said a report by the Inter-American Development Bank?s working group on the avian flu.

    But those officials warned that if the virus mutates and person-to-person infection becomes possible, the risk picture changes completely. In that case, it was stated, pandemic flu could spread in the Americas with or without sick birds. All it would take is one sick person traveling to the region.

    "Many countries in the region are vulnerable to global pandemics because their epidemiological surveillance systems are weak, especially for animal surveillance," said IDB health specialist Andr? Medici.

    This month, a preliminary report for the World Tourism Barometer acknowledged that there are three threats facing the region this year;

    As a preventive measure, PAHO, the IDB and coordinating their efforts with countries in the region to develop National Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Plans (NIPPP) based on World Health Organization guidelines.

    The plans include measures for emergency preparedness, surveillance, case investigation and treatment, preventing the spread of disease, and managing essential services.

    To date, eight countries in the region?Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico?either have completed NIPPPs or written drafts, plus the English-speaking Caribbean countries have drafted a subregional plan. Eleven others are currently developing their plans, including Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

    In The Bahamas, Department of Public Health officials have already announced that they will begin a national campaign to increase influenza vaccinations.

    The shots will be administered at all public health clinics, with the campaign designed to decrease the impact of seasonal influenza and any further complications from it.

    Officials say the elderly and young children are mostly at risk for contracting influenza, including premature babies and children with sickle cell disease. Asthmatics, pregnant women and persons who suffer from chronic conditions like lung disease are also at a higher risk of contracting the flu.

    British consulting firm Maplecroft has developed a Pandemic Risk Index that ranks 161 countries. In that study, seven countries in Central America and the Caribbean are considered at extremely high or high risk, including Haiti, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guatemala, El Salvador and Jamaica.

    On a regional level, PAHO?s has estimates that if a moderate flu pandemic infected 25 percent of the Latin American and Caribbean population, more than 334,000 people would die over the course of the first eight weeks. If the pandemic were severe, the number of deaths could rise to 2.4 million.

    Health is not the only factor to consider, though. An avian influenza pandemic could also have significant economic consequences for the region.

    Then there are the risks to the region?s poultry products industry, which produces $18.5 billion in poultry and $5 billion in eggs annually.

    The Bahamas Department of Agriculture has restricted poultry imports from countries where Bird Flu has been reported.

    As the world takes prudent measures to prepare for a major human influenza pandemic, the Food and Agricultural Organization has urged "more decisive action by affected countries, civil society, the private sector and the international community to stop bird flu in animals.

    More than 300 animal and human health experts, senior policy-makers, economists and industry representatives are gathering in Geneva last year to design a strategy to eliminate the virus in animals and prepare for a possible human influenza pandemic.