Former health official urges caution in facing virus ‘triple threat’

Former health inspector, Lionel Michael. (Photo courtesy
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By Orville Williams

With the annual ‘flu season’ very much underway and dengue fever a continued threat, residents are being urged to exercise caution as the similarity of Covid-19 symptoms could lead to systemic complications.

The Covid-19 pandemic has understandably captured the sustained attention of our healthcare sector and the fight to sustain the spread of the virus continues to prove strenuous. Along with the unfortunate infections and deaths caused by Covid-19, one of the other major issues that has come with the fight is the fear and aligned stigma of becoming infected.

That fear cannot get a person infected, nor can the stigma cause death, but it often result in some unwanted issues that threaten to impede the overall efforts.

Underreporting and underdetection are two of these issues and coupled with the additional reality of overreporting – on the part of those fearing infection – they could serve to destabilize the efforts against the spread.

The Covid-19 virus alone has been contributing to the fear and stigma, but with dengue fever and the seasonal flu now posing a triple threat, concerns have been increased.

Speaking to Observer, Lionel Michael, a former chief health inspector for Antigua and Barbuda, is advising all involved – from the average resident to the health officials – to increase their vigilance as the battle continues on all these fronts.

He said that although this has the potential for trouble, it is understandable as most of these viruses share similar symptoms.

“Firstly, I believe that it’s possible because people will have the flu and the first thing that will come to their minds is Covid-19. [It’s understandable] because the signs and symptoms of Covid-19 are very similar to the flu.

“It could be Covid-19 [but] also it could be dengue, because dengue symptoms are very closely related to Covid-19 – [the symptoms of] dengue, Covid-19 and the flu cross-match. It could be any of those things, so [if you feel ill] it’s best to have yourself checked out medically by a clinician.”

While urging a shift in mentality from the general population, he also called on the health officials to increase sensitization campaigns to calm fears and improve attitudes toward the potential illnesses.

“I think what needs to be done is a lot of education and awareness on the part of the authorities so that they can advise people that not as soon as you have [certain] symptoms it’s Covid-19. [Instead] they should be advised to watch their symptoms and seek medical attention. That’s what I think,” Michael added.

Speaking on the threat of new Covid-19 infections from tourist arrivals, Michael explained that while he understands the push for a resumption of business, the coinciding risks must be adequately acknowledged.

“The risk is there and I think it’s a genuine risk. Yes, tourism people – and not only tourism people [but] all of us – are concerned about the economic implications of Covid-19; the need to get businesses back on line and the economy open.

“[However], the risk for Covid-19 transmission from travellers is real, because of the dynamics of the type of disease. [Infected people] can either be presymptomatic, asymptomatic [or] symptomatic, as well as you can test negative and then test positive [in a short time].”

He added that personal responsibility will prove vital – especially in the case of short-term visitors – in adhering to the health safety protocols in place.

“There are a lot of issues, a lot of dynamics involved in Covid-19 and so I think that the risk should be recognized as real. Although the measures are there, the question is [can] we get people to practice and adhere to those measures?

“They’re good measures and if you practice them it can significantly reduce the risk. It wouldn’t eliminate the risk totally, but it could reduce the risk,” Michael said.

The flu season in the Caribbean usually lasts the duration of the rainy/colder months, while the threat of dengue is tied to the prevalence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

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