Following the removal of most public health restrictions instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a worldwide resurgence of acute, influenza-like respiratory illnesses. Children, in particular, are now exposed to viruses to which they developed no natural immunity over the past three years, including: influenza A and B viruses and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

While most respiratory viruses cause mild to moderate illness, many people are vulnerable to developing severe illness that may require hospitalization. Infants and the elderly are particularly at risk as well as people with obesity, non-communicable diseases, underlying immune compromise and weakened immunity for other reasons. Respiratory viral illnesses, also often precede bacterial infections, including Streptococcal infections that can cause significant damage to the body and even death if they are not recognized and treated early. Fever, sore throat, and poor appetite must also never be taken lightly as dehydration and metabolic derangements are, in themselves, a threat to life.

BAMP seeks to remind the Barbadian public that in addition to these viruses, COVID-19 is still very much in circulation and may cause significant illness in both the short and long term. It may also present as a long-COVID syndrome or contribute to a new non-communicable disease, such as diabetes. While many people have developed partial immunity to COVID-19 due to vaccinations and prior infection; new, more transmissible variants continue to emerge. Therefore, reinfection with COVID-19 is not only possible but likely. You may say to yourself: ‘I am young, strong, and healthy. Even if I get sick and knocked down for a day, a week, what is that to me?.’ The reality is that it may mean little to you but much to your grandmother, parents, relatives, or friends if you pass it on to them.

Viral respiratory illnesses are easily transmitted between persons in close proximity to each other, particularly when there is no respiratory protection, such as the wearing of face masks or the use of cough etiquette. Therefore, while many are celebrating ‘being outside’ and the return to social gatherings, BAMP must still urge Barbadians to exercise social responsibility in this festive season.

Hand sanitization prevents transmission of viruses, and regrettably we have witnessed the removal of numerous hand sanitizing stations in public settings. We advocate, for the maintenance or reinstitution of hand sanitizing stations in public buildings and private businesses. We urge the public, at the very least, to use their own hand sanitizers where none is available. BAMP particularly recommends that people who live in multi-generational households or who are in contact with vulnerable people, should continue to wear face masks, for their own sake and for those who are unable to protect themselves. We also continue to encourage testing for COVID-19, which should always be ruled out in those presenting with acute influenza-like respiratory illness.

Finally, we have noticed that limited COVID-19 vaccines are now available. We call on government to provide research-guided interventions to determine what our next steps will be. Will we purchase any of the highly effective, bivalent COVID-19 vaccines as boosters for those who wish to have them? A clear enunciation of public policy with respect to vaccine programs for acute respiratory viruses is essential.

BAMP strongly recommends that elderly and vulnerable persons should ask their doctor about receiving an influenza vaccine (flu shot) in this season if you have not already done so.

‘No retreat, no surrender’ should be accompanied by ‘no pretence.’ We do not have the luxury of acting as if the battle against these viruses does not really exist.

– Dr. Lynda Williams, President, BAMP