Wed | Jun 19, 2024

Editorial | Educate about swine flu

Published:Tuesday | April 23, 2024 | 12:07 AM

It is not this newspaper’s style or intention to be alarmist. It is, however, axiomatic that societies are likely to make better and more prudent decisions, the greater their access to relevant information.

Put another way, there is intrinsic value in transparency. Which is why we are surprised that there appears to be no, or little, public statements, bulletins or advisories by the health authorities about the several cases (assuming it is not medically characterised as an outbreak) of swine flu at the lock-up at the Central Police Station in downtown Kingston, on which The Gleaner reported last week. There were at least six confirmed cases, but the overall number could be 26 or higher. There were two reported swine flu cases in the island in 2023.

Swine flu is an influenza virus, normally found in pigs, that can be transmitted to humans, sometimes leading to a pandemic such as happened with the 2009 global spread of the H1N1 virus. But the illness is contagious and may mutate as it spreads among humans.

Mostly, the illness from swine flu may be relatively mild, with symptoms that may include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body or muscle aches, headache and fatigue. The symptoms may last for up to seven days and can usually be relieved by taking painkillers, drinking fluids and resting.

But, for older people, small children, and people with some chronic diseases, such as asthma, heart failure, diabetes, as well as people with compromised immune systems, swine flu, as it is with other influenza, can be especially dangerous and potentially lethal.


The bottom line: it is best to avoid the disease with seasonal influenza vaccines and taking precautions such as ensuring personal hygiene, including the regular washing of hands, or even wearing masks in crowded spaces. Indeed, these are the kinds of things to which most Jamaicans became accustomed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but have largely lapsed since then.

But the developments at the Central Police Station, the headquarters of the Central Kingston Police Division, suggest that there are reasons for people, including the health authorities, to remain vigilant.

The fact that there were cases of swine flu at the lock-up only came to light when prisoners detained at the Central Police Station were not brought to the St Andrew Parish Court last Tuesday. It was the judge’s enquiry into the absences that eventually led to the revelation.

Subsequently, the divisional commander, Superintendent Beresford Williams, told The Gleaner: “ We had an outbreak of swine flu from last week … . We have six confirmed cases, but then, up to last week, we had 20-odd more of the prisoners with symptoms.”


Dr Patricia Chambers, regional technical director for the South East Regional Health Authority, confirmed the six medically established cases, but suggested that the others with symptoms had not been confirmed as having H1N1. Overcrowding in the cells, common at Jamaica’s police lock-ups, aided the spread.

“It’s under control, no need to panic,” said Dr Chambers.

We are happy that the outbreak was under control. We, too, advise against panic. As well as against ignorance.

The health and wellness ministry, in the face of that cluster of swine cases, ought to have, and still should, urge Jamaicans to be vigilant against the disease, the dangers it poses to certain demographic groups, and what people should do to avoid it and to treat its symptoms.

For while the virus may appear to have been contained to the lock-up, there could well have been asymptomatic but affected prisoners who were released back into the general population. We hope that is not true. But urging precaution need not spread panic.