'A perfect storm'
Health ministry rolling out precautionary measures as dengue outbreak continues into flu season
Director of Health Services, Planning and Integration at the Ministry of Health Dr Naydene Williams addressing a post-Cabinet media briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

ALREADY facing a dengue fever outbreak, Jamaica is now headed towards the proverbial 'perfect storm' as the annual flu season looms.

Addressing a post-Cabinet media briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday director of health services, planning and integration at the Ministry of Health, Dr Naydene Williams underscored that while Jamaica is facing the dengue outbreak, the annual flu season should not be ignored.

Dr Williams noted that Jamaica had surpassed the dengue epidemic threshold for July and August and is on a trajectory to do the same this month.

But she pointed that the health ministry has already instituted some measures to deal with the dengue threat while the other will take effect next week.

"In anticipation of a possible outbreak, the Ministry of Health and Wellness implemented its enhanced vector control programme in July of this year," said Williams who is covering the desk of the country's Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, who is off the island on official business.

She said the ministry has also employed 500 temporary vector control workers to work with the 213 permanent staff, with other temporary workers to be employed shortly.

Williams also told the media briefing that the opening hours of types three to five health centres will be extended to 8:00 pm, starting on Monday, to allow people to access the facilities to seek treatment and referrals where necessary.

"Also as of Monday, October 2, children under the age of 18 years will, while visiting the University Hospital of the West Indies, not be charged a fee or be required to pay for the services to this facility.

"In addition, the resources from the National Health Fund will expand the community strategies through the engagement of all stakeholders at the community level. The engagement will involve the provision of resources to undertake dengue mitigation strategies," said Williams.

This will include support for the removal of bulky waste, drain cleaning exercises across the island.

Earlier Williams had pointed out that it was determined that Jamaica is facing a dengue fever outbreak after recording an increase in the number of cases compared to what is normally seen in July, August and September.

As of Friday, September 22, 2023, the country recorded 565 suspected, presumed and confirmed cases of dengue. Of that number, 78 cases had been confirmed, with the majority of the cases in Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine and St Thomas.

Williams pointed out that the dominant strain of dengue now being recorded in Jamaica is type two which last predominated in the island in 2010.

"The majority of these cases are children between the ages of five and 14. There is no dengue-related death classified at this time; however, six deaths are being investigated," added Williams.

Dengue is a mosquito-borne disease spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the disease, is endemic to Jamaica.

Williams noted that the symptoms of dengue are usually mild and some people may experience a fever, headache, pain behind the eyes, joint and muscle pain, and some vomiting and diarrhoea.

She underscored that rest and hydration is usually enough to see people through the illness with the recommended treatment being paracetamol or acetaminophen.

Williams warned that any medication which is described as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug is not to be taken by someone who believes they have dengue as these drugs could cause an increase in the severity of the disease.

Turning to the flu season, which starts in October, Williams noted that the flu or influenza is an acute viral respiratory infection the spreads easily from person to person mainly by coughing, sneezing and through close contact.

"The virus circulates worldwide and can affect anybody, anywhere, any time, any group of persons with varied symptoms," noted Williams.

"The flu is to be taken seriously because at any time it can lead to pneumonia, and blood infections and causes diarrhoea…in children," said Williams as she added that the flu can also worsen chronic medical conditions such as heart or lung disease.

Williams reported that the health ministry now has 18,000 doses of the flu vaccine which are being distributed without cost at public health facilities while private medical practitioners are being encouraged to also source the vaccines.

BY ARTHUR HALL Editor-at-Large halla@jamaicaobserver.com

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