Cayman Preparing for Bird Flu
Published 9th December 2005, 2:46pm
Even though the chances of a bird flu outbreak in Cayman are currently remote, an inter-departmental committee is developing a preparedness plan to respond.
The national plan follows international standards for the early detection and prevention of the spread of this disease, but at the same time also allows for unique local circumstances. The strategy document is in its final stages of development after several meetings of a multi-agency committee with representatives from the Health Services Authority and various government departments such as Agriculture, Environmental Health, Mosquito Research and Control Unit and Government Information Services (GIS) and deals with surveillance procedures for influenza in birds and humans, the disposal of infected birds, and measures for the possible arrival of the flu in the Islands. The plan also sets out a communication strategy to provide updated information to the public on disease prevention and detection.
Although Cayman's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kiran Kumar, stressed that it is unlikely that the current H5N1 bird flu will enter the Cayman Islands and start an outbreak here, he still sounded a warning: "While no-one can predict when a pandemic will occur, if one starts, we would be vulnerable due to the speed of international travel."
With this vulnerability in mind the Public Health Department is working closely with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to secure appropriate assistance for acquiring vaccine and antiviral drugs in the event of the disease reaching Cayman, Dr. Kumar said.
He added that for now though, the Islands' response focuses on the early detection of the virus and on keeping the local bird population clean.
In this regard, the Department of Agriculture has already placed a temporary halt on the importation of captive birds: "No birds will be allowed from countries where bird flu has been detected. Birds from disease-free areas will be subject to strict quarantine in the country of origin and the department will approve importation on ensuring that there is no threat of bird flu," said the department's veterinarian Dr. Colin Wakelin.
Agriculture will also organise testing of any dead birds and will work closely with farmers and birdwatchers on all three islands to keep an eye, not only on the domestic bird population, but also Cayman's large waterfowl and other migratory bird population.
"We will meet with these groups to ensure they know what to look for and how to contact us, if they see increasing numbers of dead birds," said Dr. Wakelin. "There is no reason for concern at the moment, but we must remain vigilant."
Dr. Kumar said further: “Currently we are awaiting the finalisation of systems for the laboratory testing of samples from birds and humans in the region. As soon as the missing pieces of the plan are completed GIS will head the public communication and education campaign. We are working towards having the plan completed by early January, but in the meanwhile we have contingency plans to organise testing, should the need arise,” he concluded.