Wed | Nov 25, 2020

Ja urged to keep eye on dengue, chik-V, Zika and malaria

Published:Friday | November 20, 2020 | 12:15 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

Although several factors have been driving the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases across the world, climate change is being pinpointed as one of the major influences.

Unplanned urbanisation, increased exposure of humans to disease vectors, rapid population growth, inadequate public health infrastructure and irrational public health infrastructure were also some factors highlighted at the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ 11th Annual National Health Research Conference yesterday.

Re-emerging and resurging infections are those that existed in the past, but are now rapidly increasing either in incidence or in geographical or human host range.

In Jamaica’s case, diseases such as dengue, the Zika virus, chikungunya (chik-V) and malaria should be monitored and contingency plans put in place in the event that there is an outbreak locally, the panel of presenters said.

Immunologist Dr Wilmore Webley noted that in Latin America and the Caribbean, many of the diseases affecting humans are vector-borne and that the dramatic increases were driven by climate change.

“One of the things is that if you track climate differences, it really matches up to some of these mosquito-borne diseases,” Webley said.

He said that Honduras has suffered from dengue outbreak and that the entire region has had significant issues with the disease, with an increase in cases last year, making it one of the most consistent vector-borne diseases in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The largest dengue outbreak in Jamaica occurred in 1977, and it has been prevalent in the island since. The first major malaria outbreak was in 2006.

National epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr said that malaria, in particular, still poses a serious threat to the population.

Jamaica had an outbreak of chik-V in 2014 and the Zika virus two years later. It is now battling the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed at least 235 lives and infected more than 10,000 people in the island since March.

“We have [lowered] the risk of the communicable diseases that are preventable. We have eliminated many of them, but the risk is still there, and the risk continue for the vector-borne diseases – yellow fever [and] malaria among them,” Webster-Kerr said.