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Zika attack - Almost 8,000 suspected cases of the virus in JA 15 months

Published:Friday | April 14, 2017 | 1:57 PMErica Virtue
De La Haye
A baby born with microcephaly is being examined by a neurologist in Brazil.

Local health officials have recorded almost 10,000 notifications of suspected cases of the Zika virus (ZIKV) in Jamaica between January 2016 and March 2017.

Figures from the health ministry seen by The Sunday Gleaner show that from the notifications, 7,767, or 77 per cent, were determined to be suspected cases of ZIKV. So far, 203 confirmed cases of the virus have been recorded.

According to Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health Dr Winston De La Haye, the numbers are not causing panic among health-care officials, but underscore the need for alertness and vigilance.

"The numbers you see are from private- and public-sector practitioners, and that's exactly what we want them to do. We do not want them to take any chances. We want them to report the cases so that each one can be carefully assessed so that the necessary actions can be taken," said De La Haye.

Microcephaly in babies

With Zika being linked to microcephaly in babies, De La Haye noted that among the notifications received by the health ministry were 827 pregnant women. That group had 698 suspected cases and 78 confirmed cases.

He said the health professionals were equally vigilant about symptoms for malaria and yellow fever as they were about microcephaly - a rare neurological condition in which an infant's head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex.

Malaria, yellow fever and Zika all have in common the bite of the infected Aedes aegypti mosquito.

De La Haye said, "There are no cases of ZIKV-related microcephaly in Jamaica," as he sought to quell fears among many persons that babies are born with microcephaly because the mothers were bitten by the infected mosquito.

Congenital syndrome associated with the Zika (CSAZ) virus has seen 50 suspected cases to date, of 170 notifications.

Forty-six of the cases were determined to be microcephaly with 35 non-severe cases, four showing other abnormalities such as 'crooked joints', while 11 cases have shown severe microcephaly.

De La Haye said all the children are currently living with their mothers, but this could change.

"Those children are being monitored and are seen a bit more regularly at the clinics. Continuous assessments are made to determine if those children may need to be kept in homes. But for now they are with the parents."

The monitoring is done because children with microcephaly often have developmental issues, and with no treatment for the abnormality, early intervention with supportive therapies, such as speech and occupational therapies, may help improve quality of life, he said.

Meanwhile, there are 166 cases of notified cases of babies with Zika neurological complications. Of that number, 37 are suspected cases, 30 fit the Brigton criteria (specific measurement criteria); seven the Guillain-BarrÈ syndrome (GBS) variant, and four Zika-positive.

Of the total numbers presented, the health ministry said 77 per cent fit the case definition and were classified as suspected. Of the suspected cases, nine per cent were pregnant women, with less than one per cent being suspected CSAZ.