Minister of Health Horace Dalley (right) greets Chief Medical Officer Marion Bullock DuCasse at the Zika virus training and preparation seminar for senior health officials at Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston. (PHOTO: LIONEL ROOKWOOD
THE Ministry of Health yesterday declared seven parishes high-risk areas for the Zika virus, which officials said could reach Jamaica any time now following its confirmation in 19 countries across the Caribbean, Central and South America.
Health Minister Horace Dalley said the high risk parishes are:
• St Andrew;
• St Thomas;
• Manchester; and
The ministry, he said, identified the parishes following tours to several communities across the country by ministry personnel.
Dalley, who was speaking at yesterday’s Jamaica House press briefing, said the countries with confirmed cases of the virus are: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, St Martin, Suriname and Venezuela.
He added that because of the close proximity of Jamaica with these countries, especially Haiti and Panama, as well as the issue of illegal travel to Jamaica from some of these countries, the question is no longer if the country will get the Zika virus, but when will it come.
Medical entomologist in the ministry, Sherine Huntley Jones, said surveillance data revealed that the main breeding sites are 45 to 55 gallon drums and old tyres. She made an appeal to tyre shops to store tyres in a way that they do not breed mosquitoes, and encouraged citizens to stop being lackadaisical and take the necessary precautionary measures to destroy mosquito breeding sites.
Permanent secretary in the ministry, Dr Kevin Harvey, pointed out that the mosquitoes are hatched almost daily and encouraged people to make it a routine part of their schedule to check their homes and yards for breeding grounds.
In the meantime, Dr Harvey said there is continuous surveillance at the ports of entries but he said the greatest challenge lies in the fact that the incubation period for the virus is three to 12 days, so the majority of persons who may be carrying the Zika virus, which is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, will not be detectable at ports. However, once detected, the permanent secretary said the ministry will take the necessary steps to reduce the vector around the individual’s household.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Marion Bullock Ducasse said symptoms of the virus include fever, fine rashes all over the body, headache, redness of the eye without material coming from the eye, joint pains, muscle pains, swelling of the feet and hands, weakness and in severe cases the inability of a person to use his/her limbs.
She said while only one in four persons who become infected will actually get sick, it is important to avoid mosquito bites at all costs because when a mosquito bites an infected person with no symptoms the disease can still be passed on to others.
The medications approved for use include paracetamol or acetaminophen and people are being asked to stay away from aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs which can cause complications such as bleeding, mainly because the vector also transmits other diseases such as dengue.
The ministry said it has ramped up its vector control activities over the past few months, increased the frequency of fogging in all parishes, deployed hundreds of workers to communities to assist with identifying and destroying mosquito breeding sites. It has also started a public education campaign to inform householders how to destroy breeding sites, and has been engaged in a partnership with the Ministry of Education to train teachers, administrators and students in prevention methods.
In addition, the ministry plans to invest $10 million in the virology lab at the University of the West Indies to ensure that it has the capacity to test for cases of the virus locally instead of sending samples to the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad and await confirmation, which Dalley describes as the greatest challenge.
“We have a challenge that there is no lab in Jamaica right now that has the capacity or is accredited or certified to test for Zika. We will be investing in the university’s virology lab to ensure that they have the capacity and that will take another three to four weeks to ensure that the equipment we need is here. We have bought it already and paid for it and we’re just waiting to have it installed as we’ve started expanding the lab,” he said.
The minister said, too, that while destroying the mosquito breeding sites is mainly a community effort, there has been dialogue between the Government and private sector entities to ensure that there are adequate supplies of pharmaceuticals available, equipment, chemicals and fogging machines that will see the ministry working with a budget of more than $200 million to combat the virus.
Pregnant women were earlier this week urged to be vigilant, while other women were asked to delay pregnancies for the next six to 12 months.
Infants, the elderly and persons with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and arthritis as well aspeople with compromised immune system are also at a greater risk for having more severe symptoms if infected by the Zika virus
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