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PAHO to help assess mystery illness among JDF recruits

Published:Wednesday | December 21, 2016 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin
De La Haye

While 29 soldiers have been returned to commence training at the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) facilities, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) was called in yesterday to assess what exactly caused 80 soldiers to fall ill from a respiratory infection.

Dr Winston De La Haye, chief medical officer in the Ministry of Health, told The Gleaner yesterday that samples were still being taken at various laboratories to determine the specific reason for the development at the camp.

Up to press time, one of the recruits was in intensive care.

De La Haye said it was believed that the recruits contracted the bacterial infection while at JDF training facilities in Newcastle and/or Twickenham Park between last month and this month.

"We work closely with PAHO, and it is something that we do routinely, especially when we have all of 80 persons who have fallen ill in the last couple days," he told The Gleaner.

"H1N1 (influenza virus) has been ruled out, and so we are doing the necessary checks and collaborating with our international partners to determine what exactly is the cause."

ASSESSING OTHER CITIZENS

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said on RJR's 'Beyond The Headlines' that he was in conversation with the country's epidemiologists to assess other citizens who are experiencing similar symptoms.

"We are collecting data across the country, because we would certainly want to know if this is elsewhere or if it is confined to the recruits and the persons they come in contact with within the military arrangements. That is being done as we speak, so hopefully over the next day or so, we will be able to make a determination," he said.

In the meantime, Major Basil Jarrett, civil military cooperation and media affairs officer at the JDF, noted that a recommendation has been made for future recruits to be vaccinated - something he noted would be discussed going forward.

"It's an option that we will be looking at, but the important thing is that it is not an outbreak of the H1N1 and the illness is being managed and it's fair to say that we have it under control," he said.

"We were first alerted some time last week that two recruits had gone sick during the recruiting training that's going on. This, of course, didn't really seem strange to us, because the training period can be very strenuous and recruits will get sick with various illnesses, it's a very demanding exercise."

Jarrett added: "The recruits are around each other in confined spaces at times, so I guess when you add those conditions in terms of their proximity to each other, you will understand why something like this would spread so fast."

jodi-ann.gilpin@gleanerjm.com