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Country to know by weekend if suspected case is chikungunya

BY ANIKA RICHARDS Observer staff reporter richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, July 17, 2014    

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THE country should know by the end of this week if the suspected case of chikungunya, which was reported late Tuesday, is in fact the island's first imported case.

This would mean that Jamaica would be added to the list of 28 countries and territories in the Caribbean and Latin American region, as of July 14, that have reported cases of chikungunya, with 5,227 cases confirmed.

Neville Graham, director of communications at the Ministry of Health, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that there should be a confirmation by Friday.

The ministry, late Tuesday, issued a news release saying its surveillance system detected the suspected imported case of the chikungunya virus, and that it involves an individual who travelled from an affected country and fell ill. The individual had screening tests done at a private laboratory, which indicated the illness, and a sample was sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for confirmation.

Graham was yesterday unwilling to disclose the name of the "affected country" or whether the individual is Jamaican, offering instead that, as a matter of protocol, they would not be disclosing any identifiers.

The release Tuesday quoted chief medical officer, Dr Kevin Harvey, as saying: "This does not indicate local spread of the virus, and we continue to monitor persons living in and around areas visited by the individual. We have heightened our vector-control activities to reduce the possibility of local spread."

This was reiterated by Graham yesterday.

"Even as we speak, we are monitoring the suspected case; we have activated our investigation processes where we check on places the person has been," said Graham, adding that the people this individual has come into contact with were also being monitored.

The health ministry said Tuesday that it has been putting measures in place for more than two years in anticipation of the chikungunya virus reaching the island.

"In terms of public education, with sharpening our surveillance mechanisms, and that involved training persons who were involved in surveillance apparatus, it had to do with bringing more health professionals up to speed about what to look for in recognising the disease and any treatment protocols that there may be.

"It had to deal with sensitising all our stakeholders, especially internal stakeholders, about the presence of the disease and what to do about it," Graham explained.

In the meantime, Jamaicans are being urged to protect themselves from mosquito bites as well as reduce the possibility of mosquito breeding.

"The Aedes aegypti is a day-biting mosquito that will almost always be found in and around areas where people live, work and play," Dr Harvey said. "The mosquito breeds in water that settles around homes, schools, churches, workplaces, and playgrounds. Persons are urged to search for and destroy mosquito-breeding sites in and around their homes, workplaces and communities by getting rid of old tyres and containers in which water can settle, punching holes in tins before disposing, and covering large drums, barrels and tanks holding water."

People travelling to and from countries which have confirmed cases of the virus are also urged to protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellent containing DEET, and covering their body as much as possible by wearing long-sleeved clothing, for example.

Symptoms of chikungunya virus include high fever, headache, muscle pain, joint pain -- mainly in the limbs and large joints -- and a rash. Although it does not often result in death, joint pains and stiffness can last for years.

According to CARPHA, the majority of individuals bitten by a mosquito infected with the virus will present with symptoms after an incubation period of three to seven days, which can go up to 12 days.

Anyone who experiences any of the symptoms of chikungunya is asked to visit their doctor or the nearest health centre immediately.

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