By Abria Cooper
Minister of Health the Hon. Renward Wells warned members of the public that COVID-19 is not the only illness they should be concerned about during his Minister’s report this week.
“COVID-19 is with us and unfortunately that does not mean that all other illnesses and viruses have ceased. In a few short weeks, it will be October, which marks the beginning of the influenza or ‘flu’ season. The flu season lasts until March,” he said.
He stated that last year in the Bahamas, our healthcare system treated thousands of people affected by the flu or complications from the flu.
At this time, unlike COVID-19, there is a vaccine available to protect people from influenza. It is important that we all get the flu vaccine, especially during this time of COVID-19.
“The flu vaccine is safe and effective and this is supported by years of research. Isolation of the first Influenza H1N1 strain in 1933 and the first Influenza B strain in 1940, lead to the first bivalent flu vaccine in 1942. The flu vaccine has been around for 78 years,” he said.
Wells added that currently, it is recommended that all persons older than 6 months should get the annual vaccine to prevent getting the flu, unless specifically instructed not to by a doctor.
According to him the flu similar to COVID-19, is characterized by symptoms such as fever, cough, muscle aches, sore throat and runny nose and a general unwell feeling. Illness can be mild or severe. While it is important to get the flu vaccine each year because of new strains of the virus which circulate annually, this year greater significance must be placed on availing oneself of the 10 available flu vaccine.
There is currently no vaccine for COVID19 however the flu vaccine can provide protection for us from the current circulating strain(s). Healthcare workers are encouraged to talk to their patients about the flu vaccine to educate them about the benefits.
“If you think you may have the flu, call your healthcare provider to get appropriate instructions on what you should do. Along the same path of vaccine preventable diseases, according to the World Health Organization, immunization prevents two to three million deaths every year,” he said.
Wells noted that immunizations are important public health tools for the very young to older persons.
“For example, younger children need their immunizations kept up to date to ensure that they are protected from preventable diseases such as mumps and measles. Parents have a great responsibility in this regard,” he said.
Older persons should also get the pneumococcal vaccine to prevent pneumococcal diseases such as pneumonia or meningitis. Getting immunized protects you, your family and the community. Immunizations save lives.
“We know that adjusting to life with COVID-19, and health matters in general, puts a toll on us all, including our healthcare workers. We value the personal sacrifice that our healthcare and frontline workers exhibit daily. We are grateful for the men and women who have worked extra shifts, volunteered and even come out of retirement to once again serve their country,” he said.
Wells stated that the government is also grateful to their family members for sharing their loved ones’ time and expertise with the nation.
“As we seek to ensure that our physical health is safe, let us also pay attention to our mental health. Watch for signs of depression, anxiety, stress and insomnia. Now more than ever is when people need to talk to one another, ‘check-in’ and assess emotions,” he said.
He informed that the Mental Health and Psychosocial Services (MHPSS) Help Line Numbers are: 819-7652 816-3799 815-5850 812-0576 or 454-2993 Persons can call, WhatsApp or text.
Wells also took the opportunity to advise members of the public to continue follow the recommended precautionary health measures.
“We ask the public to continue to routinely follow the recommended preventative measures. Before you leave your house ensure that you have a clean mask, your personal hand sanitizer and any other protective equipment for your safety.
He added that if person see others not wearing their masks properly, not using proper coughing and sneezing etiquette, touching their face or being too physically close, respectfully, intervene and help hold one another accountable.
“When you enter an establishment two of the first things you should look for are signs that promote the preventative measures such as ‘no mask, no entry’ and a sanitizing station that you can utilize. If you do not see these, speak with the business owner or manager and relay your safety concerns,” he said.
He also advised persons to plan their outings and make lists to help them limit the amount of time, or number of trips out in the Public.
“When you return home, engage in your sanitizing process at the door and ensure that you safely enter your home and interact with your family members,” he said.
Wells noted that Health officials have intimated that this whole process will be with us for some time.
“If we work together and follow the guidelines, we will successfully overcome this pandemic. Let us all do our part and stay safe,” he said.