Take Precautions but do not panic. That’s the urgent advice from stakeholders in the health sector as Jamaica faces the threat of another serious mosquito-borne disease, the zika virus (ZIKV).
With the wounds still fresh from the debilitating impact of the chikungunya virus (chik-V) that rocked Jamaica last year, from which persons are still experiencing long-term effects, Jamaicans are concerned about the country’s preparedness to handle the introduction of yet another new potentially devastating disease.
On Monday, the Ministry of Health put Jamaica on alert, following reports that there was an outbreak of the zika virus in Brazil and the potential of the mosquito-borne virus to spread to other countries.
“The virus has been confirmed by the Ministry of Health in Brazil in 16 persons there. In these situations, we take the lead from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), which has advised all countries in the region of the Americas, including Jamaica, to ensure that we are taking all of the necessary precautions to slow or limit the introduction of this virus into the country. And if it is introduced, to ensure that we are able to detect it, manage our patients, and a major part of this effort is to ensure that we keep our public informed so that they understand that preventing the breeding of the Aedes aegypti mosquito is critical,” Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Marion Bullock-DuCasse told The Gleaner yesterday.
“This is a virus that has never been detected in Jamaica before, and so we are taking all the necessary precautions. As with all new viruses, we will have a large number of the population that are susceptible or will become ill. The challenge is to ensure that if a case is detected, we do very rapid control measures, including urgent vector control, to ensure that we reduce the population of the mosquitoes that can spread the disease.”
Bullock-DuCasse acknowledged that lessons have been learnt from the chik-V epidemic, with the ministry now experienced in the necessity for rapid control measures. This experience, she said, will guide the efforts in preparing for another new virus, including ensuring prevention of a rapid spread across the island.
“I think we have all learnt lessons from the introduction of the chikungunya virus, and certainly at the Ministry of Health we are ensuring that we use all of the best available technical knowledge that we have and were passed on to us from international health partners because we intend to ensure that we step up our preparedness, including public education, and that our health-care workers are prepared,” said Bullock-DuCasse.
She said the ministry has an ongoing, islandwide vector-control programme, including fogging exercises. However, because this breed of mosquito lives in settled water in and around places persons inhabit or congregate, it is important that individuals play their part in eliminating breeding sites.
The ministry will also have teams out in the communities to assist persons and carry out health inspections.
Bullock-DuCasse said the symptoms of ZIKV are not as severe as chik-V, including not exhibiting long-term effects nor are persons prone to relapses, as they are with chikungunya.
“The zika virus is considered a self-limiting virus in that it does not have the long-term effects that persons experienced with chik-V. In fact, it is said that one in four persons who become infected do not display any signs or symptoms,” she said.
The acting chief medical officer is strongly advising persons that once they begin to show symptoms, to seek medical attention and that persons with pre-existing medical conditions, whose immune system is compromised, pay even closer attention.
“We urge the public to continue to listen to the advisories from the Ministry of Health. We also strongly urge that persons remember that the Ministry of Health is the authority on these health matters. We take our guidance from PAHO, the World Health Organisation, and other international health authorities, including scientists who have collaborated on the work on this virus, and others,” she stated.
“The Ministry of Health will ensure that the information flow is very frequent and that the public and health-care workers are guided accordingly.”