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Flu season is here and it is evident that a lot of people are getting sick with flu-like symptoms really fast. Most people have been blaming the abrupt changes in weather as a series of cold fronts have passed over the country in the last few weeks, but officials in the Ministry of Health are closely investigating the sudden death of at least six people over the past few months who displayed flu-like symptoms.

Last week, Belize’s Ministry of Health released a flu season advisory, encouraging the general public to practice vigilance by washing hands, having cough etiquette and getting flu shots to avoid illness or prevent the spread of it. The advisory comes at the heels of deaths that have been reported at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City, reportedly caused by respiratory distress commonly associated with pneumonia.

Health officials say that there is no cause of serious concern and that Belize is not on the brink of an influenza epidemic, but they are closely investigating the six deaths. Their attention is drawn at the cases of apparent severe respiratory distress disorder syndrome that has killed young people.

According to reports on Channel 5 News in Belize City, four persons died between October and November last year; three patients were transferred to the K.H.M.H. from Corozal, Toledo, San Pedro and one is from Belize City including an eight year old boy living with down syndrome. All the patients had flu-like symptoms and stomach infections, but testing came back negative for H1N1. The patients’ conditions deteriorated quickly to pneumonia and further complications which led to their deaths. This month, three others have died due to similar symptoms. The Ministry of Health says it has not been able to pinpoint any links between the unexplained deaths, but that they are continuing their investigation.

Even though there is no cause for high alarm, Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services at KHMH, says that the flu virus can kill if not treated in due time. Mostly young children and older persons are vulnerable to catching the virus and it’s because the hospital has received a number of patients with severe pneumonia that the advisory has been issued. So far there are no positive test results for the death cases but the hospital advises anyone suffering from influenza-like illnesses to consult their nearest health center.

Belize Ministry of Health Influenza (Seasonal Flu) Advisory
The Ministry of Health would like to remind the public that we are still in the flu season. Persons at risk for serious flu complications include young children; pregnant women; people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma and HIV; and people 65 years and older.

The Ministry of Health encourages those who are at risk for serious flu complications to take a flu vaccine since it is the best way to prevent the flu. The vaccine is available free of cost at all public health centers. If the signs and symptoms of the flu do not go away after 10 days or if they become worse, visit your nearest health center immediately.

The flu (or Influenza) can be prevented by practicing the following healthy habits:
• Wash your hands with clean water and soap or use hand sanitizer before touching food, eating and after using the toilet
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
• Avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth with dirty hands
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick
• If you have the flu, avoid being around others, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food

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Dorian Nuñez

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