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Health ministry foresees no spike in chikungunya cases

Wednesday, August 27, 2014    

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HEALTH officials say they are not expecting to see a spike in the number of chikungunya cases when the new school year begins next month because of the measures that have been put in place to combat the spread of the virus.

According to Director of Emergency, Disaster Management and Special Services Dr Marion Bullock DuCasse, the health ministry has been working with the Ministry of Education and parish health departments to ensure that the environment is safe for the students when they return to school.

"We want to ensure that at each school they are taking the necessary preventative measures to reduce mosquito breeding sites, and it is a very good opportunity for our children to be more in tune with their environment and to be able to understand they, too, can impact on their own health by reducing breeding sites, by cleaning up the environment in general," she said.

Chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted to humans by infected mosquitos. It causes fever and severe joint pain. Other symptoms include muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash. The disease shares some clinical signs with dengue, and can be misdiagnosed in areas where dengue is common. There is no cure for the disease and treatment is focused only on relieving the symptoms.

Dr Bullock DuCasse and a team from the ministry, headed by health minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, were addressing reporters and editors at the Jamaica Observer weekly Monday Exchange at the newspaper's head offices in Kingston.

Meanwhile, the dry spell which the country is currently facing is expected to further impact the mosquito-breeding sites as people continue to store water in uncovered containers.

Additionally, Dr Bullock DuCasse said there is also the issue of improper hygiene during this dry period and this brings its own share of challenges as sanitation is compromised. As such, the ministry will be looking out for cases of gastroenteritis.

"Later in the year we are approaching the time for gastroenteritis, so we have to be careful about that... and then there are the usual skin rashes like scabies, but we depend on our community health care workers for the early alert to put the prevention in place," she said.

Meanwhile, Minister of Health Dr Ferguson said last week Cabinet put in place a sub-committee, chaired by water minister Robert Pickersgill, to ensure that adequate water supply is in the schools.

He noted that a meeting was scheduled for Monday afternoon as part of the back-to-school preparation for trucking water to the affected institutions.

"Education and health are supposed to be the priority areas for trucking, but given the present period the prime minister took a decision last Monday that we should meet to put in place other plans that will strengthen the back-to-school preparation as it relates to water," Ferguson said.

He explained that chikungunya, although introduced in the Caribbean last December, has been around in Tanzania since 1952 and has since impacted some 31 countries in the Caribbean and the Americas.

"As much as it is not as mortally impacting as dengue fever, by virtue of the muscular and joint pains it could last for years, and its impact on children and elderly could see it impacting our production and productivity," Dr Ferguson said.

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