Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Jamaicans urged to take flu seriously as chikungunya virus could worsen symptoms

Published:Thursday | February 12, 2015 | 12:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham
Dr Shane Alexis, president of the Medical Association of Jamaica

Residual effects of the chikungunya virus (chik-V) could be worsening the impact of the influenza virus several persons have been experiencing, causing them to be having debilitating symptoms.

"This time of year is well known as the flu season, and with persons travelling from various countries for various reasons, we anticipate new viruses - flu-like viruses - to enter our territory, as well as the fact that persons are still having chik-V-related issues," Dr Shane Alexis, president of the Medical Association of Jamaica, told The Gleaner.

"The severe symptoms that persons are experiencing now, with this flu, could be a combination of the long-term effects of chik-V and getting the flu. So that will impact their immune system and make the flu affect them worse than usual.

"In other words, they are already battling chik-V symptoms, and if they have still not fully recovered and another virus is thrown into the mix, and with their immune system being depressed, it can make things worse and lead to other infections."

Doctors report that since the start of the year, they have been seeing patients with acute flu symptoms, including high fever, weakness, joint pains, chest pains, shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches and diarrhoea. Some persons are reporting that the symptoms last up to a week.

With a sober reminder of the chik-V epidemic that hit Jamaica last year, from which many are still suffering the effects, persons have been questioning if a new virus has landed on Jamaica's shores.

However, Alexis said he was not aware of any new virus affecting Jamaica or the wider Caribbean region, but it was not unusual for new flu-like viruses to develop, as it was par for the course for viruses to mutate.

The National Influenza Centre said it was also unaware of any new flu-like virus in Jamaica.

 

SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION

 

"I strongly advise persons not to stay home, but to seek medical attention. It is not wise for persons to stay at home thinking they just have the flu and find that they are just getting worse, without checking it out. It may be related to chik-V or not, but don't take anything for granted," Alexis warned.

William Mahfood, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), said the business sector would be keeping a close eye on this situation, as it could have an impact on the workforce.

"This terrible flu is something we will be watching. I myself had a bad experience with it a few weeks ago. It started with sinus and headache, then chest pain. Fortunate for me, a doctor wrote a prescription for me and I am okay now. I don't know what type of flu it is, but it was quite severe. It really knocked me hard," Mahfood shared.

Yesterday, in addressing the MAJ's Golden Jubilee launch at the Terra Nova Hotel in St Andrew, he said, "Healthy workers lose less time from work due to ill-health and are more productive overall Ö . The chik-V outbreak last year very clearly demonstrated this. [The] PSOJ estimated that approximately 13 million man-hours may have been lost as a result of the outbreak, potentially resulting in economic losses of more than $6 billion, as workers stayed off the job while recovering. Some business places appeared to have up to 60 per cent of staff affected."

Mahfood added, "The chik-V outbreak and its residual effects are a sobering reminder that we are susceptible to a number of viruses such as these, and collectively, we need to do more to prevent them from having such a strong impact on our people."

Last year, Jamaica was hit hard by the chik-V epidemic, with a significant percentage of the population affected. Doctors have warned that persons who contracted the illness could continue to experience symptoms for months into years.

anastasia.cunningham@gleanerjm.com