Local doctor says Zika virus is here

But health ministry again denies claim

Friday, October 23, 2015

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CONSULTANT congenital cardiologist Dr Sandra Williams-Phillips says she has treated at least 12 cases of the feared mosquito-borne zika virus (ZIK-V) and that she has written to Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson on the matter.


Speaking on a daytime radio programme yesterday, Dr Williams-Phillips said she had received no response to her e-mail to Dr Ferguson, although she could not confirm that the minister had received her correspondence.


The medical doctor of 34 years said she was among the first local doctors to identify the presence of the chikungunya virus, which wreaked havoc on the country last year, but that her diagnoses had not been taken seriously.


Dr Williams-Phillips, who treats paediatric as well as adult cases of congenital heart disease, said some of her patients who presented symptoms of the Zika virus were children.


She argued strongly that the symptoms she had seen were convincing enough to diagnose the virus even in the absence of lab tests.


Late yesterday afternoon, on another radio programme, chief medical officer (CMO) in the health ministry, Dr Marion Bullock Ducasse, said the ministry would be launching an investigation into the matter. She said that, even if the patients had recovered, tests could still prove whether they had in fact been infected with the virus.


The CMO said she could not speak on whether Dr Ferguson was in receipt of a report about the cases, but that no official report had come to the ministry from St Catherine, where Dr Williams-Phillips said she treated patients, via the standard reporting system for these types of events.


The CMO has maintained over the past several months, that there are no confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Jamaica. Earlier this month, the ministry said a sample which it had sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in September tested negative for chikungunya, dengue and Zika viruses.


"Outside of Brazil, there have been no cases confirmed in any country in the Latin American and Caribbean region, including Jamaica," Dr Ferguson said at a hand foot and mouth disease press conference on October 2.


The ministry has also refuted claims by Opposition spokesperson on health, Senator Marlene Malahoo-Forte, that she had been reliably informed about three confirmed cases of Zika virus.


"I have heard that there are confirmed cases of the ZIK-V here... I got a call from someone whose employee was tested, and I'm reliably advised that it is a confirmed case," Malahoo-Forte stated at a press conference a few weeks ago.


The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) in May issued a warning about an outbreak of Zika in Brazil and said there was potential for it to spread to other countries.


The virus causes symptoms which are similar to CHIKV and is transmitted by the same vector -- the aedes aegypti mosquito.


Communities have been plagued by mosquitoes over the past few weeks, with residents in Portmore in particular complaining bitterly about the insects, which they say have descended on their homes in droves. The nuisance is also evident in the Corporate Area, and has citizens concerned about whether the country could soon find itself in the throes of yet another mosquito-borne disease.


-- Alphea Saunders


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