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Jamaica urged to brace for full impact of Chikungunya virus

Published:Thursday | September 4, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Debris in a clogged drain seen at Pembroke Hall High School yesterday. - Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer

Edmond Campbell, Staff Reporter

A strong warning is coming from the head of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), based in Trinidad and Tobago, to the rest of the region, including Jamaica, to brace for the "full impact" of the Chikungunya virus even as concerns mount locally about the spread of the mosquito-borne disease.

As the number of cases in Jamaica climbs steadily, medical practitioner and former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association Dr Shane Alexis said Jamaica should take the warning from CARPHA seriously.

In a Gleaner interview, Dr Alexis suggested that efforts to prevent the rapid spread of Chikungunya should include widespread community involvement. "I certainly would encourage schools, churches and other community groups to do Labour Day-type activities, such as bushing and clearing areas, especially where a lot of people meet at any one time."

He stressed that efforts to contain the spread of the virus should not only be confined to doctors, nurses and the Ministry of Health, but should be expanded to teachers, journalists, public-sector workers, labourers and every Jamaican that can play his/her part in this critical drive.

Executive Director of CARPHA Dr James Hospedales told the Caribbean Media Corporation that with a population of 17 million people, the region is still in the early stages of the virus. He said the "full bloom of Chikungunya virus is yet to come".

According to the CARPHA head, in six months, the virus has spread to all the islands "and we can expect further increases in levels of cases based on what has happened elsewhere in the world where, in some countries, you find a 30 per cent attack rate of the entire population within a year or so."

Dr Alexis said that while each country in the Caribbean has had a different experience in relation to the spread of the virus, Jamaica has been fortunate to have recorded a low number, to date. He is urging the country to be vigilant, especially from a grass-root standpoint.

Chikungunya is a viral disease carried mainly by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito and causes a dengue-like sickness.

Symptoms include a sudden high fever, severe pain in the wrists, ankles or knuckles, muscle pain, headache, nausea, and rash. Joint pain and stiffness are more common with chikungunya than with dengue.

Visit health centres first

Dr Alexis is advising persons with symptoms of the virus to contact the primary health-care facilities before visiting hospitals. "We don't want to overwhelm our health sector any further. We want to direct them to the right place - the health centres - and then they will determine at that level whether they should be referred further or they can be managed there."

Last week, the Ministry of Health urged the administrators of schools across the country to take urgent steps to remove mosquito breeding sites at their institutions.

Yesterday, The Gleaner visited two institutions, one in St Andrew and the other in Portmore, St Catherine, and found areas of concern that could be conducive to mosquito breeding.

However, Principal of the Pembroke Hall High School Daniel Morgan said steps have been made by the school to maintain a clean environment to prevent mosquito breeding.

He said the Ministry of Health has visited the school on a number of occasions to carry out fogging. Despite this, students at the institution told The Gleaner yesterday that they have had to battle pesky mosquitoes daily while in class.

Morgan suggested that the breeding of mosquitoes could be taking place in proximity to the institution.