Chik-V here to stay
With predictions that the outbreak of the chikungunya (chik-V) virus is yet to peak, experts are increasing their urgent warning for governments to strengthen vector controls, as well as for individuals to play their part to stem the spread of the virus and protect themselves from infection.
The warning, medical experts noted, is even more dire for persons in vulnerable groups, particularly those with pre-existing medical conditions, as the virus seems to affect them more adversely.
According to Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), Dr James Hospedales, there have been approximately 750,000 cases of chik-v in the Caribbean and Americas, 15,000 confirmed cases and 152 deaths, since the first case last December.
Speaking Tuesday evening during a Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) public forum in St Andrew, Hospedales noted that the number of cases on the ground greatly exceeded what was being reported, and that he expected those numbers to spike.
Noting that, like dengue, chik-V will be in the region for years to come, he said it was likely to become endemic to the Caribbean.
The debilitating chik-V has been sweeping across Jamaica, with reports of just under 10 deaths due to complications from other medical conditions. In fact, reports are that the majority of deaths from the disease have resulted from complications developed due to underlying medical conditions.
Anecdotal reports indicate that chik-V displays the uncanny ability to attack the vulnerability in the health of individuals it affects.
Persons have reported that once afflicted with the disease, previous injuries or other medical conditions have acted up. In fact, some persons have reported that if was after contracting chik-V and visiting the doctor that they discovered that they were suffering from another ailment.
Shane Alexis, president of the MAJ, said he has noticed this trait of the disease, and has got reports of this tendency. However, he said proper research was needed to determine why this happens.
"In regards to this pathophysiology of the virus, which is how the virus works, more study is required to determine really why the disease operates the way it does before I can effectively respond to that," Alexis told The Gleaner yesterday.
"This brings us right back to the problem that the health sector is grossly under-funded, rendering the sector unable to do some of the critical things needed to be done to properly function, and that includes medical research and development."
He added, "We are feeling the impact of these diseases in our country and economy, therefore, the time has long come for us to integrate research and development into our health budget, so that we can start to answer the questions that are most important to us."
Chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted to humans by infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Symptoms include high fever, severe joint pain, muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue, rash, vomiting and diarrhoea.
During the forum, CEO of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, Dennis Chung, said a preliminary assessment of the effects of chik-V on the Jamaican economy revealed that there was an estimated loss of approximately $6.6 billion in man hours.
Chung said chik-V has had a crippling effect on the work force, with more than 12 million man hours potentially lost due to the virus.