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No need to panic over dengue — health ministry

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, October 12, 2012    

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THE Ministry of Health has confirmed an outbreak of the contagious dengue fever, but said that there was no need for panic despite the growing numbers of confirmed and suspected cases.

"Strictly speaking we are having an outbreak based on the increases in the suspected cases of dengue... The Ministry has heightened its response in terms of all the required strategies to control the situation," Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael Coombs told journalists at a Ministry of Health press conference in downtown Kingston yesterday.

The latest figures released by the health ministry reveal that as at September 29 there were a total of 1,215 suspected cases of dengue fever compared to 887 last year and 3,202 in 2010 -- an outbreak year. There have been five suspected deaths with one confirmed via autopsy.

The ministry said all parishes have been affected to date with Kingston and St Andrew showing the highest incidence of the disease or 50 per cent of the cases. The breakdown of suspected cases by parish showed Kingston and St. Andrew with 599, St Catherine with 71, St Thomas with six, Portland with 19, St Mary with 36 and St Ann with 67 cases. In Trelawny some 20 cases have been identified, 66 in St James, 38 in Westmoreland, 24 in Hanover, 30 in St Elizabeth, 128 in Manchester and 82 in Clarendon.

Yesterday, Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson said the Ministry "is doing all it can at this time to limit the impact of dengue fever on the population". He said some 800 communities islandwide are being targeted for intervention, with some 450 communities already fogged. The health minister said over 3,500 premises have been visited and approximately 5,000 containers inspected and aedes aegypti mosquito breeding sites treated.

In the meantime, an additional $11.5 million has been spent on dengue control activities with an additional $14 million committed of which $4 million is designated for the health regions, $4 million for public education and $6 million for vector control.

Recent figures from the Pan American Health Organisation indicate that from 2001 to 2012 more than 31 countries in the Americas have seen a total of 9,847,209 cases of dengue. Central American and Caribbean countries are among those that presented the highest incidence rate during this period. Dengue in Jamaica is usually seasonal with increase in cases occurring after the rainy season or from September to March.

Dengue is a viral infection transmitted by the aedes aegypti mosquito. The virus can only be spread when the mosquito bites an infected person and then someone else. Symptoms of dengue fever include pain behind the eyes, joint and muscle pain, weakness, fever and possibly a rash.

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