Fri | Dec 14, 2018

ZIKV arrives - One case confirmed, scores more being tested

Published:Sunday | January 31, 2016 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris

After weeks of warning of the inevitable appearance of the Zika virus (ZIKV) on Jamaica's shores, the Ministry of Health yesterday confirmed the first case in Jamaica.

According to the ministry, the first confirmed case was a four-year-old child from Portmore, St Catherine, who has now recovered.

The ministry said the child began showing symptoms on January 17, 2016, after earlier returning to Jamaica from travel to Texas in the United States.

The child was examined at the Bustamante Hospital for Children and samples sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for testing on January 26, 2016.

The ministry said it received the positive Zika virus test result from CARPHA late last Friday.

"The case is being investigated to determine the source of infection, and the child's parents and family have been contacted and briefed by a team from the Ministry of Health. No other family member is ill at this time," said the ministry in a release yesterday.

According to the ministry, it has undertaken the necessary community interventions in and around the area where the child lives to determine whether there are other cases, and has heightened vector-control activities.

Minister of Health Horace Dalley is expected to provide additional information during a press briefing tomorrow.

In the meantime, The Sunday Gleaner has confirmed that several Jamaicans have been paying up to $6,000 to get tested at local labs for the mosquito-borne disease, despite pronouncements by government health officials that only CARPHA, which is based in Trinidad, can confirm any positive cases in the island.


CARIGEN testing


Checks with several laboratories last week confirmed that ZIKV testing is now a part of their offerings, and individuals can expect to pay between $5,500 and $6,000 to have their samples tasted.

The Sunday Gleaner understands that several of these samples are then sent to the Caribbean Genetics (CARIGEN) based at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, for testing.

During a recent Jamaica House media briefing, Dalley noted that the Government is spending $10 million to upgrade the Virology Laboratory at UWI, Mona, to ensure that testing for the Zika virus can be conducted locally.

According to Dalley, the National Public Health Laboratory would receive and send samples to CARPHA.

"The biggest challenge we have is that there is no lab in Jamaica right now that has the capacity or is accredited or certified to test for ZIKA. We will be investing in the university's virology lab to ensure that they have the capacity," said Dalley.

Late last week, chief DNA analyst at CARIGEN, Compton Beecher, confirmed that it has been testing for the Zika virus since late last year, after the virus was detected in several countries in the Americas.

"We started testing our system in July and made it commercially available in August," he said.

The forensic analyst added that they have been using the real-time PCR system, which is the equipment being used by international laboratories to confirm the virus in samples. It is the same machine that is used to detect the chikungunya virus.

"Most of our systems are automated now, so we can even run hundreds of samples now," said Beecher. "We managed very well with chik-V (chikungunya virus) and we have the capacity to do a lot of different tests," he said.

However, president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association, Dr Merton Smith, told our news team that he was told by the Ministry of Health that CARIGEN is not able to do confirmatory testing.

"CARIGEN at UWI was doing the testing but they can only do the preliminary test and it has to be sent abroad to CARPHA in Trinidad for confirmatory test," said Dr Smith after checking with health ministry officials.

Beecher said that CARIGEN intends to comply with the health ministry's regulation to send positive tests to CARPHA for confirmation.

However, results are also sent back to the labs which ordered the testing so that the results can be given to patients. Some laboratories promise to return results within five to seven working days.