At the peak of the influenza season, citizens have the responsibility to protect their health by taking proactive preventive measures aimed at preventing the spread of the disease. Similar measures should be considered to curb other infectious diseases to which the population is exposed.
This is a shared task. The Health Department must take immediate concrete measures to prevent the spread of dangerous diseases by intensifying awareness campaigns and stressing the need to increase vaccinations as a protective measure mainly targetting children and the elderly.
So far this season, there have 13,757 cases of influenza reported in Puerto Rico. Caguas has been the most affected region. However, the rate of infections to date has not reached the alert threshold, which has motivated authorities to redouble efforts in favor of vaccination. It is important to stress the importance of vaccinating even for those who have already suffered from the disease, as they are still exposed to a mutation of the virus that causes it.
Prevention and education are also prudent measures in the face of the risk posed by the coronavirus. Although no cases of this disease have been recorded in Puerto Rico, and the Health Department estimates that the probability is low, there is no reason to lower our guard against this new virus, whose symptoms are similar to those of influenza. It is important that people remain attentive to official reports on this virus and not to follow unfounded rumors.
A pediatric tuberculosis case reported in late December, with the child's parents are also infected, is another warning sign to the entire population. It calls for a review of current measures aiming at preventing and treating life-threatening diseases. Contrary to what might be assumed, tuberculosis has not been completely eradicated from the planet. In line with that reality, in 2015 the World Health Organization launched the End TB Strategy seeking to reduce the number of deaths by 95 percent and the incidence rate by 90 percent by 2035.
There have been 35 cases of tuberculosis, of all ages, reported in Puerto Rico in 2019. This figure is seven times higher than the one recorded in 2018. However, health data indicate that this figure represented a drop compared to previous years. From 44 cases reported in 2014, the total rose to 52 and 69 in 2015 and 2016, respectively. In 2017, meanwhile, there were 40 cases were reported and 28 cases in 2018.
The trend is similar to that in the United States. The Health Department has the responsibility to use all means to raise public awareness of health measures to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. The agency must insist on the importance of vaccination, acting firmly and promptly against those who spread false information and deny its benefits.
The Health Department must also work to avoid repeating situations like the one registered inJuly 2019, when there was a shortage of tuberculosis tests, which are necessary to assess the existence of factors that identify whether a patient is prone to tuberculosis. The lack of such tests forced doctors to simply fill out a form to identify the patient's level of risk, which could have resulted in late diagnoses and inaccurate reporting on potential cases.
Puerto Rico already knows about the damage that infectious diseases can cause and thus this calls for coordinated efforts focused on prevention. Only this way, through measures that people can implement at home or in their communities, along with organized and proactive initiatives by the government, it will be possible to build a healthier and more productive Puerto Rico.