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Health ministry tackles chikungunya as two new cases confirmed

Ministry activates chikungunya response

Friday, August 08, 2014    

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JAMAICA'S health authorities yesterday signalled that they have gone into combat mode since two cases of chikungunya were detected earlier this week in individuals with no travel history outside of the island.

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson told the country that since the confirmation of local transmission of the mosquito-borne virus, his ministry has implemented intense vector control activities, including fogging of the surrounding areas and communities in which the affected individuals reside in three-day cycles each week. This will continue for a period of three weeks.

The minister said samples from the infected individuals found with chikungunya were sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency, which confirmed the positive results on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 5.

"Fever surveillance and contact investigation are still taking place," Dr Ferguson said at a news conference yesterday morning. "We have also increased the capacity of the vector control teams across the island by providing additional equipment and supplies. The public health team has put in place vector control measures at the commercial offices of one of the affected persons. Health educators have been conducting education sessions and distributing material in the affected communities."

Heightened surveillance, he said, was taking place in Kingston and St Andrew, St Thomas, and St Catherine.

Dr Ferguson said the latest cases bring to four the number of people infected with the virus in the island.

The first case was confirmed on July 17, while the second on July 28. Both were imported.

He said that since the confirmation of the first imported case, the Ministry of Health activated its Emergency Operations Centre (EOC).

The centre provides national leadership to the response, including the vector control programme and management and oversight from the ministry for activities that are being undertaken islandwide.

Dr Marion Bullock-Ducasse, director of emergency, disaster management and special services in the health ministry, said health officials have also been conducting education sessions and distributing material in the affected communities.

Chikungunya (pronounced chik-en-gun-ye) is transmitted to people by mosquitoes. The most common symptoms are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that outbreaks of the virus have occurred in Africa, Asia, Europe, and in countries in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

According to the CDC, "in late 2013, chikungunya virus was found for the first time in the Americas on islands in the Caribbean. There is a risk that the virus will be imported to new areas by infected travellers. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat chikungunya virus infection. Travellers can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites".

The CDC also advised that people travelling to countries with the chikungunya virus should use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved clothing and pants, and stay in places with air-conditioning or that have window and door screens.

Yesterday, the health ministry said that anyone needing additional information should contact the ministry's EOC at 1-888-663-5683 or 1-888-ONE-LOVE.

Minister Ferguson yesterday urged Jamaicans to destroy mosquito-breeding sites and eliminate places where water can settle.

The ministry said it will also be focusing on schools and has already instructed the parish health departments to work closely with school administrators to carry out necessary vector control and public education activities to minimise the risk to children.

Yesterday, as well, the ministry stated that, as it relates to the deadly Ebola virus, Jamaica does not, at this time, fall into the category of high-risk countries for transmission.

However, Minister Ferguson said the ministry continues to strengthen its health system and has set aside $10 million to deal with any such eventuality.

"The capacity of our laboratory will be crucial in the event that we need to test for Ebola," said Ferguson.

"I would like to assure you that we will continue to enjoy the support of the University of the West Indies Virology Lab, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Caribbean Public Health Agency for testing if needed," he said.

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