CMC: Health authorities in St Lucia Monday confirmed that the island has recorded its first case of the coronavirus (COVID-1) Omicron variant HV.1 as they reported an increase in the number of persons presenting with flu-like illnesses during the last two months.
The Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs, in a statement, said that the increase is observed both in visits to the emergency departments and Wellness Centers, adding “this is particularly the case for children less than five years of age”.
The statement said that earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that in December 2023 there was a 42 per cent increase in COVID-19 hospitalisations and a 62 per cent increase in ICU admissions compared to the previous month.
The ministry said that in addition to COVID-19, it has recorded an increase in confirmed cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus and Influenza for the period October 08 to December 2023.
It said similar trends were detected globally mainly in parts of Europe, Central Asia and North America due to changes in the temperate Northern Hemisphere.
According to the ministry, on January 17 it received laboratory results from the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) confirming the presence of Omicron variant HV.1 in samples submitted by the national reference Ezra Long Laboratory.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that HV.1 has become the most dominant variant in the United States, with symptoms closely resembling a cold or the flu. These symptoms include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, cough, runny nose, sore throat, and congestion.”
The ministry said despite the fact that HV.1 seems to be highly transmissible, “experts agree that the new subvariant is not known to cause severe disease.
“This is the likely cause for the increased respiratory illness noted in country,” it said, encouraging members of the public to reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses by adopting several measures including proper hand hygiene with regular hand washing, covering nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and wearing a face mask where possible in crowded places and when presenting flu-like symptoms
The ministry said it wanted to remind the general public that St Lucia is currently in the flu season, which runs from October to March, “and as such, would like to encourage the use of the flu vaccine which is available free of charge at the various wellness centers.
“The COVID-19 Janssen vaccine is also available and can be taken as a booster, especially for persons with risk factors or chronic illness. COVID-19 testing is also available free of charge at the Wellness Centers,” it added.