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While the number of suspected influenza cases has declined over the last five years, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh has expressed concern about the number of East Indians who are diabetic, hypertensive or obese who are dying from the flu virus.

Responding to a question from Naparima MP Rodney Charles in the House of Representatives yesterday, Deyalsingh said: “I am concerned that the message for vaccination is not getting through to one particular group of people. That is the number of deaths being recorded among the East Indian diabetic population, in South Trinidad, with co-morbidities like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and who are smokers. The majority of those (flu) deaths unfortunately fall into that category and majority of them (the persons in that group) are unvaccinated.”

The minister also expressed concern about pregnant women, noting that only 217 pregnant women had availed themselves of the influenza vaccination.

“That is an abysmally low” number, he noted.

There have been 32 deaths from the flu virus. The flu season runs from October 2019 to May 2020.

Decline in cases

Deyalsingh said the suspected cases from 2014 peaked at 7,118. He said because of the Government’s aggressive vaccination drive, “we are now in 2018 at 4,515 suspected cases”.

He said in 2019 up to December 6, there were 3,232.

“In other words, there is more than a 50 per cent decline in the cases of suspected influenza cases being seen. That would translate in the demand for less hospital beds,” he said.

Deyalsingh said there was peak in November for about two weeks when the influenza virus, inclusive of H1N1, took its toll. That peak has since declined significantly “and we are now in a much better place than we were two years ago”.

Deyalsingh, who got vaccinated, said he developed pneumonia over the past month and his diagnosis was that it was not due to swine flu (influenza A) or influenza B.

“I developed pneumonia, I could have died but the death certificate would not have shown negative for swine flu,” he said.

Asked about deaths at San Fernando Hospital due to respiratory distress, Deyalsingh said it was very possible for someone to develop acute respiratory distress, for example pneumonia, and die of that, not caused by the influenza virus because there are many causes of active respiratory distress.

He renewed his appeal to the vulnerable groups–elderly, diabetics, asthmatics, those with pulmonary diseases, those taking immuno-suppressant drugs, and children under five–to take the vaccine.

Gopeesingh put out

Caroni East MP Dr Tim Gopeesingh asked whether Deyalsingh was aware there was a raging controversy internationally about the complications of the flu virus in pregnant women and young children, since young children in particular were getting a lot of complications.

Gopeesingh said as a gynaecologist he was still to determine whether he should recommend it to his pregnant patients.

Deyalsingh said he had searched local and international publications and was not apprised of any raging controversy. He said he was very concerned that an eminent gynaecologist could get up in the Parliament and say he was discouraging his pregnant patients from getting the vaccine.

Gopeesingh took umbrage to the misrepresentation of his statement, and his objection became so loud and persistent that the Speaker, after several warnings, eventually asked him to leave the chamber because his behaviour amounted to “gross disorder”.

“I hold my integrity and professionalism dear and nobody must question that,” Gopeesingh said, before departing the chamber.

LINK ORIGINAL: Trinidad Express

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