Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Gov't launches urgent multi-dimensional fight against ZIKV

Published:Wednesday | February 3, 2016 | 2:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham
Simpson Miller

Not taking any chances, the Government has launched a multi-ministerial, multimillion-dollar approach to tackling the possible outbreak of the Zika virus (ZIKV) and controlling the vector responsible for its transmission.

With a proposed budget of more than $500 million, Health Minister Horace Dalley announced yesterday that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has given a strict directive that all government ministries play an active role in the country's preparedness and response to ZIKV.

Last week, Jamaica became one of 25 nations in the Caribbean and Americas to confirm cases of the mosquito-borne disease. The one locally confirmed case, a four-year-old boy from Portmore, St Catherine, has now recovered from the virus.

"No other family member is displaying symptoms. The Ministry of Health continues to actively investigate to detect any other cases that might be present in the area or in the country," Dalley said during a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister.

"We have heightened our fever and rash surveillance in the area and the entire country. Within Portmore, we have deployed additional resources, including vector-control workers, equipment and supplies as well as other resources to enhance surveillance and public awareness."

Declining to name the exact community, the minister revealed that 1,894 households in and around the vicinity of the index case were visited and surveillance and investigations carried out. A fogging blitz was also launched, which means for three consecutive nights and repeating weekly for the next three weeks.

Blood samples were collected from 15 persons. A total of 27 samples have now been sent from Jamaica to the Caribbean Public Health Agency, awaiting confirmation of any more cases.

Persons who suspect they may have the Zika virus are urged to visit a health centre or their general practitioner.

Declared a Class One notifiable disease, health officials must report any suspected cases they come across within 24 hours.

Dalley said critical to controlling the spread was controlling the main carrier, the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

As such, a number of multi-pronged initiatives have been implemented.

NO CAUSE FOR ALARM

In a public address to the nation last night, the prime minister sought to assure Jamaicans that, despite the one confirmed case, there was no cause for alarm.

She, however, said it meant that greater urgency was needed to control the mosquito population and minimise the spread.

"I am deeply concerned about this threat to public health. Every one of us has a duty to destroy mosquito-breeding sites," Simpson Miller said.

"Since the Government was advised of the presence of the Zika virus in the Americas, we have been doing everything we can to ensure that adequate vector-control efforts are carried out across the country."

Given the great risk ZIKV poses to pregnant women and the possible link to microcephaly in newborn babies, the health ministry has advised women to delay getting pregnant for the next six to 12 months.

Noting that this was a personal choice women had to make, the prime minister added that the National Family Planning Board had increased its public information and other interventions and "will assist Jamaicans with family-planning options free of cost".

The prime minister also stated that additional financing and human resources have been allocated to the health ministry to aid with the public-health threat.

Symptoms of ZIKV include fever, rash, red eyes, joint pains, headache, muscle pain, swelling in lower limbs, and weakness. There is no treatment for the disease, only the symptoms associated with it.

On Monday, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a global public-health emergency, posing greater risk to infants, pregnant women, the elderly and persons with pre-existing medical conditions.

Among the complications that can develop from contracting ZIKV are birth defects (microcephaly) in newborns, paralysis, neurological and autoimmune disorders, and death.

ZIKV is transmitted from human to human by the bites of infected mosquitoes of the Aedes species, particularly the Aedes aegypti, which also transmits dengue and chikungunya. It can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse and blood transfusion.

anastasia.cunningham@gleanerjm.com