Tufton reports one dengue death
Ministry says outbreak could continue until year end
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton addresses Parliament

THE Ministry of Health and Wellness has confirmed one death from dengue fever since an outbreak of the illness was declared in Jamaica on Saturday, September 23.

Dr Christopher Tufton, the portfolio minister, who gave an update on the dengue outbreak in a statement to Parliament on Tuesday, said this was among six deaths that were being investigated.

“Regrettably, one death was dengue-related, three were classified as suspected dengue-related deaths, and one was not a dengue-related death. The sixth death remains under investigation,” he said.

He said that the number of presumed, suspected, and confirmed dengue cases has increased to 1,117 as at Friday, September 29.

“Of that number, 160 are confirmed dengue cases — 158 dengue serotype 2, one serotype 3, and one serotype 4,” he said, noting that the increase has pushed the country past the dengue epidemic threshold for July, August, and September.

Dr Tufton said it is projected that the dengue outbreak could last until the end of this year and may continue into early next year.

He said that while Jamaica has seen continuous local transmission of the dengue virus since 1977, the presence of the type 2 strain had not been identified in the population since 2010.

He noted that all parishes have recorded dengue cases, with Kingston and St Andrew reporting the highest number of cases year to date.

“However, when the cases are assessed by population, St Thomas, Portland, Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine, and Hanover have the highest rates.”

The health minister also noted that the five-to-14-year-old age group continues to be the most affected, explaining that this is the population that is least exposed to the type 2 strain, and are the most vulnerable.

“I am therefore urging parents to exercise vigilance with their children and teens, and to take the necessary action to reduce the incidences of dengue among this vulnerable population. For those with compromised immune systems, including the older population, they should also be careful of this virus and the Aedes aegypti mosquito,” he said.

He said that since declaring the outbreak the ministry has initiated its Dengue Outbreak Mitigation Plan, which has components comprising search and destroy operations, clinical management, workforce management, surveillance, and public education.

“The aim of the plan is to reduce the impact of the dengue outbreak on the population. Approximately 500 temporary vector control workers have been engaged and deployed across the island to high-risk communities, along with 213 permanent workers. An additional 600 temporary workers are now being engaged to increase the search and destroy [efforts], as well as the health education component of the response,” he said.

According to Tufton, since July 2023 parish health departments have been engaged in enhanced fogging and treatment of mosquito breeding sites, and a seven-day work week programme for fogging and other mosquito-eradication activities has been implemented.

Additionally, Tufton said the ministry has extended opening hours to 8:00 pm for all Type 3 to 5 health centres, which started Monday, October 2. This is to facilitate people visiting these facilities to receive treatment and referrals, where necessary. At the same time, children under the age of 18 years old who visit the University Hospital of the West Indies will not be charged a fee or be required to pay for services at the facility.

In the meantime, in response to Leader of Opposition Mark Golding’s query as to why the ministry took so long to respond given that, according to the data, the epidemic threshold was surpassed in July, Tufton explained that the delayed response was as a result of data lag.

“You don't collect the data in real time. Unfortunately, you have a number of [satellite] sites around the country [from which] information has to be collected, tabulated [and] assessed. So, the epidemiological function that is involved in the data normally lags a few months and so we report as it becomes available.

"Having said that, I would also say that we have historical data that tells us when we will have a greater threat level — droughts and heavy rains. And we are experiencing, up to recently, drought conditions [so] we had a lot of storage of water.

“In collaboration with our partners regionally we have been making preparations but we could not declare officially an outbreak until the data was available — but that does not mean we have not mobilised the troops in the field, sensitised the critical public health team (by the parish level or otherwise), and they weren't out there doing their work. I suspect it is because of that [measures that were implemented] why we are in a better position in terms of the unfortunate death I have just reported,” he said.

Dengue is ordinarily a mild disease as people get a fever, headache, joint and muscle pains. The illness is often resolved through rest and adequate hydration, along with paracetamol to treat the accompanying fever.

However, on occasion, the illness can progress to severe dengue, which can result in organ failure, bleeding, and severe fluid depletion that can lead to shock and death. Therefore, it is important for individuals experiencing fever, vomiting, severe abdominal pain, bleeding under the skin, feeling very weak, or getting confused, to seek immediate medical attention.

ALECIA SMITH , Senior staff reporter; smitha@jamaicaobserver.com

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