Sun | Oct 22, 2017

ZIKV haven - Health ministry study reveals most Jamaicans allowing vectors to breed

Published:Monday | May 9, 2016 | 12:23 AMChristopher Serju
An Aedes aegypti mosquito is shown on human skin.
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton
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Many Jamaicans are unwittingly putting themselves at serious risk of becoming infected with the Zika virus (ZIKV), spread primarily by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, due in large measure to the improper storage of water used for household chores.

Health minister Dr Christopher Tufton told The Gleaner yesterday that the concerns were confirmed by the results of a study conducted by the Government, which clearly shows the need for much greater public awareness and concerted action to stem the spread of the vector-borne disease.

Public health inspectors who visited 239,046 premises in 1,473 communities across the island reported that more than 75 per cent of the 488,370 containers inspected were found to contain larvae of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, a worrying statistic for health officials.

People infected with the Zika virus can have symptoms such as mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, or headaches.

However, research has shown that only one out of five infected persons will have symptoms, and only those who are feeling very sick are likely to visit a doctor.

Tufton is treating the findings from the public health survey as a call to action, with the buy-in from all Jamaicans an absolute necessity.

“WHO (World Health Organization) is suggesting that over time, once it’s present in a society, one could expect up to 70 or 75 per cent of that population to experience some levels of infection. So in our case, we have had nine cases to date, with a number of other cases being tested. We believe that based on all projections and the examples and cases of other countries, local cases will increase,” he told The Gleaner.

“It’s important, we think, to highlight that to the country, while not causing or trying to create panic, but helping the country to appreciate the importance of the need to take the necessary precautions. So we are going to be embarking on a review process to see what else can be done in anticipation of greater, higher levels of infection.”

CONFIRMED CASES

A breakdown of the nine confirmed local cases of ZIKV infection show that one was in St Thomas, three in Kingston and St Andrew, with the other five in St Catherine. Most of the containers found with Aedes aegypti larvae were found in St Catherine, with a higher concentration in Portmore and its environs.

The high incidence of breeding sites in homes was disturbing to the health minister, who emphasised that a national public education effort to drive sustained corrective action would be a major plank of the Government’s action plan.

“Some 75 per cent of the sites that we have identified are breeding sites in containers that have been deliberately set by householders for the catchment of water for domestic purposes primarily. What that says to us is that the numberone form of prevention is going to have to be for citizens to be on the alert and to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families in their immediate surroundings, and, by doing so, reduce the risk of contamination by these viruses to their community, and by extension, to the country.”

He continued: “The ultimate approach has to be citizen action, citizen alertness, and citizens being careful monitors of their own environment. Based on all the data, in the months to come, we intend to engage in greater levels of consultations. I have asked the ministry to pull together, working with other agencies of government, a list of citizens associations, community groups, and the intention is to move through the country, meeting with these community groups and trying to get them to be a part of this sort of process of public education and public information.”

BEYOND SOCIO-ECONOMIC BOUNDARIES

Tufton was quick to point out that the mosquito larvae infestation transcended socioeconomic boundaries.

“It’s not necessarily an uptown or downtown issue because while it might be a drum because there is no piped water in one community, it may be a tank, a reserve tank in an uptown community; it may be a pond; it may be a pool; it may be an unprocessed pool. So it’s not a rich versus poor issue. It’s an issue that demonstrates a relative lack of awareness and recognition on the part of otherwise informed citizens of the threat that stagnant water – wherever that water is – poses to them by facilitating breeding sites for the vector.”

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com