Caribbean nations prepare for potential H1N1 flu outbreak

When travelers hand over their passports to immigration agents at the international airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, they are almost certain to see new signs promoting frequent hand washing and others urging parents to keep sick children at home.

In Jamaica, Trinidad and elsewhere in the Caribbean, tourists are asked how many days they plan to stay and to list countries they just visited. They are also given pamphlets on how best to avoid infection.

Measures like these to contain the H1N1 flu virus — or swine flu — have become even more important as the Caribbean enters the high tourist season this month.

Health officials point out that the region eluded an outbreak but that it's still poised to respond to any subsequent outbreak.

"The general public should be confident that the countries in the Caribbean have very much the necessary level of preparation and response," said Dr. Gina Watson, country representative for the Pan American Health Organization's Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean region. "The ministries of health have the capacity to respond."

Health officials initially feared that an epidemic in the Caribbean would have caused havoc to the population and aggravated a tourism-dependent region already suffering from the tanking global economy.

But that didn't happen.

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