OCTOBER is regarded as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but not many people are aware that it's also Lupus Awareness Month. The oversight is one of the challenges faced by the Lupus Foundation of Jamaica (LFJ), the local volunteer group that assists Jamaicans living with the disease.
"That has traditionally been our challenge. We get support from victims and other people impacted by the disease but in terms of generally, from the public, everyone observes the breast cancer issue more," disclosed Dr Desiree Tulluch-Reid, president of the LFJ.
"Once you say cancer, everyone knows that it's dangerous; it can kill you, etc. But when you say lupus, people are not quite sure what it is that you are talking about," she said. "You don't get the type of effect from lupus as you would from cancer, but our duty is to spread the message and educate people about it," she continued noting that awareness about the disease is growing in Jamaica.
Lupus, according to Dr Karel De Ceular, consultant rheumatologist at the University Hospital of the West Indies, is a disease of the immune system that is formed when a person with a high-risk genetic profile is exposed to environmental factors that cause the immune system to become overactive.
"The symptoms depend on the organs involved," noted De Ceular. "Most patients have flares of fever, fatigue, skin rashes and joint pains. The disease usually strikes between the ages of 18 and 40, with 90 per cent of patients being women," De ceular noted. However, there is no single cause for the disease which, according to Tulluch-Reid, affects some 1 in 250 persons living in high-risk populations. Jamaica is a high-risk population, Tulluck-Reid noted, and said persons need to discuss the lupus threat with their health-care providers.
She noted that the disease is very difficult to study but that certain ethnic and cultural groups, including persons of African decent, are more susceptible.
The Lupus Foundation of Jamaica is a volunteer organisation which celebrates its 30th anniversary next year. Its primary objectives are to raise public awareness about the disease and to offer support for persons living with it. The foundation will be hosting its annual Symposium on Sunday, November 10, inside the Medical Arts Building on the grounds of the University of the West Indies. Admission is free to the public.