Influenza cases continue to climb in Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN – Although an increase in cases of influenza on the island is expected, these have not yet reached the level required to declare an epidemic, State Epidemiologist Carmen Deseda and Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez said Thursday.
When asked why an epidemic had not been declared when in previous years the declaration was made with fewer reported cases, Deseda explained that the alert level must be maintained for four consecutive weeks. Also, the threshold to declare an alert is not a fixed number, but a comparison with historical data for the past five years.
“It is calculated weekly if we are at a level above what we expected or we are at the alert level. When we reach the alert level, if we have more than four consecutive weeks on the alert level, then we are in an epidemic phase. At this time we have not had an alert level for more than four consecutive weeks; therefore, the epidemic has not been declared,” the epidemiologist said.
Deseda stressed that the government projects that these numbers will continue to rise, so they want to be proactive in promoting the use of influenza vaccines, which should be administered twice a year, for each flu season.
Health Deputy Secretary Concepción Quiñones, who also directs the Voces Vaccination and Prevention coalition, said that in addition to private vaccination centers such as pharmacies and doctors’ offices, the government has 122 vaccination centers for patients covered by the government’s health insurance program, Mi Salud.
In addition, he indicated that the free vaccination efforts carried out by the Health Department, along with Voces Vaccination and Prevention, are open to anyone from six months and older.
In previous years, these initiatives were not free-of-cost, but given the public health emergency classification maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these are covered by the federal government, Quiñones said.
Regarding the CDC’s declaration for Puerto Rico, which occurred after hurricanes Irma and María in September, the Health secretary said it is expected to remain until September; although the CDC reevaluates the status every 90 days. The next revaluation is slated for March.
The officials made their remarks at a press conference in which they also urged the population to get vaccinated against influenza and to adopt preventive methods to avoid greater propagation.
Education and DACO act
For her part, Education Secretary Julia Keleher announced that her agency has already activated the protocol to report cases of influenza in public schools. In addition, she indicated that classrooms identified following the established protocol have been thoroughly cleaned and that vaccination centers will be set up at schools this month.
Another effort to fight the virus was made by Consumer Affairs (DACO by its Spanish acronym) Secretary Michael Pierluisi, who issued a price freeze for articles to prevent and recovery from the virus.
“The order applies to any product or item that is reasonably necessary for the consumer to prevent or recover from this virus. This includes, among other things, Tamiflu, the vaccine, medicines such as acetaminophen, antibacterial soap, disinfectant [and] hand sanitizers,” Pierluisi said.