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More suspected cases of ZIKV

Published:Thursday | May 19, 2016 | 12:00 AMAnastasia Cunningham
The Aedes aegypti mosquito which transmits the Zika virus

Although there are still only 10 confirmed cases of the Zika virus (ZIKV) in Jamaica, the number of suspected cases is on the increase as more persons are turning up at doctors and health centres with symptoms associated with the mosquito-borne disease.

"As I said before, with Zika being new to Jamaica, this is the tip of the iceberg, and although the numbers remain the same, we can't get complacent," Dr Karen Webster-Kerr, principal medical officer at the National Epidemiology Department, told The Gleaner yesterday.

She is sitting in for Chief Medical Officer Dr Winston De La Haye, who is off the island.

"We are getting more reports of suspected cases daily from all over the country, and we do take them into account because not everyone will seek medical attention in the time frame that will allow us to take a blood sample to test for it," she said.

"If the sample is not taken within the first five days of the illness, we could not do a confirmatory test."

The health ministry, she said, continues to send twice-weekly blood samples to the virology lab at the University of the West Indies, the results of which are received weekly.


Self-limiting disease


Among the symptoms of ZIKV are high fever, joint and muscle pain, red eyes, headaches, swelling in the lower limbs, and weakness. It is considered a self-limiting disease in that symptoms last for four to seven days; it does not have long-term effects; and one in four persons who become infected do not display any symptoms.

However, although ZIKV is a milder version of chikungunya (chik-V) and is also mainly transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the seriousness of ZIKV is its link to at least three major medical complications.

The complications that can develop from contracting ZIKV are:

Microcephaly - an abnormal growth of the brain and stunting of the growth of the head of the foetus arising from infection in the first months of pregnancy. Babies who develop microcephaly in the womb may not live to full term; may be born prematurely; may be stillborn; or may survive, but with life-long disability.

ZIKV is also linked to the autoimmune diseases Guillain-Barre syndrome (also known as GBS), and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (more popularly known as ADEM), which targets the peripheral nerves.

"With the heightened awareness about the complications associated with Zika, our surveillance systems are on high alert. However, so far, we have not identified anyone with these complications. In the case of microcephaly, we will not expect any data on that for a few months," Webster-Kerr said.

ZIKV is transmitted from human to human by the bite of infected mosquitoes of the aedes species, particularly the Aedes aegypti, which also transmits dengue and chik-V. It can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse and blood transfusion.

There are no treatments for the disease, only the symptoms associated with it.

Webster-Kerr said the ministry continues to urge persons to be vigilant in looking for and destroying mosquito breeding sites in their personal environment, which will go a far way in stemming the spread of the virus.