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GHA warns of flu outbreak in hospital ward and community

St Bernard's Hospital. Photo by Eyleen Gomez.

An outbreak of influenza A has been identified with seven cases found in St Bernard's Hospital in under two weeks, the Director of Public Health, Dr Helen Carter, has confirmed.

Over the last two years Gibraltar has had very low levels of circulating influenza, likely as a result of
reduced social mixing and good respiratory hygiene, the GHA said.

But unusually for this late in the season, 17 cases have been identified since April 1, and of these seven were found in hospital.

“However, we do not test anywhere near as much for flu as we have for Covid-19, so we will not be identifying all of the cases,” a GHA spokesman told the Chronicle.

“We anticipate that this is a large under estimate of numbers in the community because people think they have Covid-19, test negative and carry on with life without isolating i.e. staying in if they have a temperature etc.”

The GHA said it is unusual for influenza cases to increase this late in the year, which means that whilst the seasonal flu vaccine administered last autumn was very effective, the level of immunity that it offered is now waning.

"Whilst influenza is unpleasant, most people will recover within a week,” the GHA said.

The GHA advised influenza has very similar symptoms to Covid-19 such as high temperature, cough, blocked nose, muscle
aches, sore throat and tiredness.

"Individuals who experience these symptoms but test negative for Covid-19 may have influenza A and should stay at home until 24 hours after fever is gone," the GHA said.

It is advised those with influenza symptoms should not visit Elderly Residential Services or St Bernard’s Hospital as to do so would put vulnerable relatives and friends at unnecessary risk.

"Over-the-counter treatments such as paracetamol can be used to reduce temperature and treat influenza symptoms," the GHA said.

The GHA advised the public not to proactively seek a test for influenza.

The GHA will only test for influenza at the Primary Care Centre and St Bernard’s Hospital in cases where confirmation of the diagnosis may alter clinical treatment, i.e. if the individual is very young or very old.

Dr Carter, said: "This is a reminder that there are a number of respiratory infections, other than Covid-19, that can easily spread and cause severe illness for the most vulnerable in society. If you test negative for Covid-19 but have heavy systematic symptoms such as a fever is important that you:
• remain at home for 24 hours after the fever has come down;
• do not visit vulnerable relatives and loved ones, particularly in ERS and the hospital."

"This is because you are increasing the risk of transmitting influenza onto someone who may be at increased risk of developing severe disease."

"For most people flu is unpleasant but they will usually recover within a week without any longer term health effects."

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