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ZIKV upsurge - Doctors say Zika cases numerous, want change to reporting procedure for virus

Published:Thursday | June 2, 2016 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson and Shanique Samuels
Dr Mary Sloper: We’ve had a problem because the [reporting] protocol is old-fashioned.

Some of Jamaica's general practitioners are urging the Government to review the reporting mechanisms of the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease, in light of what they claim is the growing number of cases which outstrip the 15 confirmed so far by the health ministry.

The urging comes as Dr Christopher Tufton, Jamaica's second health minister since Dr Fenton Ferguson and the chikungunya (chik-V) foul-up, is scheduled to give an update today on the virus, which is a global public health emergency. Ferguson was accused of underreporting the incidents of chik-V and that placed intense pressure on him as minister.

But less than 24 hours before Tufton's update, the Association of General Practitioners (AGP) has issued a call for changes to the reporting and communication systems surrounding the Zika virus.


Zika epidemic


According to Dr Donald Gordon, head of the AGP, the 15 cases of Zika that Tufton has confirmed do not give a "true representation" of how the Zika epidemic is unravelling.

"We're seeing an upsurge in the number of cases, and a number of doctors are seeing large numbers of cases every day. Personally, I'm seeing like about seven cases each day, and this has been going on for the past couple of weeks," he told The Gleaner yesterday.

It's a similar situation that Clarendon-based general practitioner (GP) Dr Winston Dawes is reporting. He claims that in the last two weeks, he has seen about 10 patients with symptoms suggesting a viral illness.

Unconfirmed cases can only be treated as suspected ones, but the AGP does not have a figure on the number being reported by its members.

For cases to be confirmed, they have to go through a rigorous procedural process that takes time, money, and patience, exactly what the practitioners are arguing may be necessary, but which could be weakening the efforts at prevention. Making it no easier is that testing for Zika is scientifically difficult.

Dr Mary Sloper, a St Andrew-based GP, told The Gleaner that while her colleagues support the ministry's anti-Zika campaign, improvements in the reporting process could help making interventions more targeted. Along with reporting confirmed cases, she wants the ministry to report on suspected cases.

"We've had a problem because the [reporting] protocol is old-fashioned," she argued.

"We (GPs) have been saying it would be a great idea if you can tell us the number of suspected cases. If we had better 'as-it-happens reporting' on suspect Zika cases, that would be helpful to the epidemiologist and to us the GPs, nurses, and everybody else who is trying to effect behavioural change in particular, to prevent the microcephaly that's going to happen."

Microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads, has been linked by global health experts to the Zika virus.

Reports have surfaced locally that a pregnant woman has been diagnosed with the virus. Tufton has declined to confirm the report, saying he would address all Zika-related concerns at his media briefing today.

"We have received a number of reports, but (we're) trying to verify," he told The Gleaner.

Just yesterday, officials at a United States hospital announced the birth of a baby girl with Zika virus-related microcephaly, the second such case for the North American country.

In the meantime, Sloper, Gordon, and Dawes say the Government needs to intensify its public-education efforts, especially as they relate to the empowering of women of child-bearing age.

"I don't think a lot of persons are fully aware of the consequences of the ZIKV. That is one message that really needs to get out there clearly," Gordon said, suggesting that even videos of the effects should be created and circulated.

In January, the Jamaican Government warned women to delay getting pregnant because of the potential impact of the Zika virus on newborns.

Latest World Health Organisation data show that as of May 25, sixty countries have reported Zika cases.

Zika has no cure and is spread by the same mosquito that transmits the chikungunya virus - the outbreak of which led to a serious public-health emergency in Jamaica almost two years ago and the discrediting of Ferguson.