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Dalley defends delay pregnancy advice

Published:Thursday | January 21, 2016 | 1:00 AMChristopher Serju
Horace Dalley

Health Minister Horace Dalley on Tuesday defended the Government's decision to advise women to consider putting off pregnancy for at least the next six to 12 months in order to reduce the risk of Zika virus infection, given the potentially serious birth defects that could arise.

"Already, I have heard many people say, why are we warning people not to get pregnant? We believe in the Ministry of Health that it is our obligation to inform and to make people aware of any threat to public health. That's the role of the chief medical officer and her team that advises the minister and advises the Cabinet to take these decisions," declared Dalley at the Spanish Court Hotel, New Kingston, on Tuesday.

No easy decision

The decision to issue the advisory, which also warns pregnant women to take extra precautions to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes, given the link between the Zika virus infection and microcephaly, was not arrived at lightly, according to Dalley.

"We considered it very carefully. PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) indicated to us on Sunday (that) there seemed to be, based on clinical investigations so far, a link between the Zika virus and premature births, stillbirths, and neurological disorders for young babies, unborn babies and babies and mothers. So, therefore, we decided to make the public aware," he said at the official launch of a partnership between the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation and Caribbean Cement Company Limited to carry out a range of clean-up activities aimed at significantly reducing the number of mosquito sites.

The Ministry of Health has explained that microcephaly is an abnormal growth of the brain and stunting of the growth of the head of the foetus arising from infection in the first months of pregnancy. Babies who develop microcephaly in the womb may not live to be full term, may be born

prematurely, may be stillborn or survive, but with lifelong

disability.

Among the most vulnerable persons are infants, the elderly, and persons with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, cancer, sickle cell, or those with an otherwise compromised immune system. These persons are advised to make extra-

special efforts to protect themselves since they are at far greater risk for more severe symptoms.

Common symptoms

The most common symptoms of the Zika virus are mild to severe fever, rash (which may itch), redness of the eyes, joint pains, headache, muscle pain, swelling of the lower limbs, and general weakness. These are usually experienced three to 12 days after the victim is bitten by an infected mosquito and usually last for between four and seven days.

There is no specific medication for treating Zika fever. Paracetamol (Acetaminophen) is the only thing that should be used for pain and fever. Pain killers such as aspirin, ibuprofen and other inflammatory drugs should NOT be taken.