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Protect yourself against chikungunya!

BY ANIKA RICHARDS Observer staff reporter richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, August 26, 2014    

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CHIEF Medical Officer Dr Kevin Harvey yesterday issued a call for Jamaicans to protect themselves against the chikungunya virus, saying that despite fogging efforts the virus is expected to circulate among the population.

Speaking reporters and editors at yesterday's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper's offices on Beechwood Avenue in St Andrew, Dr Harvey said, "...Though in this phase we constantly monitor and count the number of cases of chikungunya, we fully expect that because the Aedes (aegypti) mosquito is here and here to stay, that chikungunya will be endemic in Jamaica.

"(This) means that it will circulate among our population, along with dengue, as we have had for the last number of decades, and that it potentially will spread right across the entire island," Dr Harvey added.

Since the first confirmed case on July 17, 16 additional cases have been confirmed as of August 20. Of this number, 14 were locally transmitted, two imported, while the other is said to be a cryptic case.

The ministry's director of emergency, disaster management and special services Dr Marion Bullock DuCasse explained the cryptic case: "...We are not sure where the person became infected because, based on the incubation period, they travelled but they were here in an area where we had another case, so we are not sure."

Dr Bullock DuCasse also disclosed that to date, though the number of suspected cases are not routinely adjusted, there have been approximately 50 such cases of the virus, 10 of which have since been discarded after returning negative laboratory tests.

"Now the case definition for chikungunya is also very non-specific and it is meant to be that way, so it is very sensitive, (so) that we are not missing patients," Dr Bullock DuCasse went on. "So when we are looking at fever, joint pain and rash and other muscle pains, it could actually be dengue fever. So what we do is after we have identified patients we then do a more detailed history, including travel history, contact with someone who might have travelled to an affected area, and then we do laboratory testing."

It is only after the test result is returned that the case can be confirmed as a local transmission or an imported one.

Earlier this month, Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson said that since the confirmation of local transmission, the ministry implemented intense vector control activities, including fogging.

However, according to the chief medical officer, fogging will not prevent the spread of the disease.

"No amount of fogging that you do will stop or prevent this," Dr Harvey told the Observer team. "What we want persons to do and understand is that they need to take precautions at their local level to prevent themselves from being bitten by the mosquito.

"But under any scenario you look at, and no matter how much you fog, we will have chikungunya endemic in Jamaica from here on," Dr Harvey insisted.

Since the virus first appeared in the Caribbean in December last year, according to the health minister who was on the panel that spoke yesterday, it has been "fairly aggressive".

"In fact, it has impacted on almost — the last report I saw — 31 countries within the Caribbean and the Americas and over 5,000 confirmed cases in this short period," Dr Ferguson said.

He added that although it is not as impactful in terms of mortality, chikungunya — by virtue of muscular pain and joint pain, which could last for years, as well as its impact on children, the elderly and people afflicted with other co-morbidities such as diabetes and high blood pressure — affects productivity and production.

There is no specific treatment or vaccine for the chikungunya virus. Jamaicans are therefore being urged to protect themselves from mosquito bites and also reduce the possibility of mosquito breeding.

Individuals should ensure that they protect themselves by using insect repellent containing DEET and covering their body as much as possible by wearing long-sleeved clothing. People should also search for and destroy mosquito-breeding sites by getting rid of old tyres and containers in which water can settle, as well as punching holes in tins before disposing and covering barrels, drums and tanks which hold water.

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