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Malaria alert - Authorities rush to prevent outbreak after confirmed case of deadly disease

Published:Friday | January 11, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Nadisha Hunter, Staff Reporter

The health sector is in a frenzy after the revelation that a Jamaican was on the weekend diagnosed with the highly contagious disease, malaria, after a recent visit to a country on the African continent.

Health officials were yesterday rushing to identify all persons with whom the patient might have come in contact in order to administer the necessary treatment to prevent an outbreak of the disease.

The Gleaner understands that the victim, who is a videographer from Cardiff Hall, St Ann, was diagnosed with the disease weeks after his overseas trip, meaning more persons are at risk of catching the illness.

It is also believed that the victim attended a major music festival over the Christmas holidays.

The Gleaner was told that public health officials have been visiting the area since the incident. Some health professionals were seen doing checks in the St Ann community yesterday.

Patient isolated

Chairman of the North East Regional Health Authority, Leon Gordon, confirmed the malaria case.

Gordon said the infected man was hospitalised and isolated in order to be treated for the illness.

However, Gordon was quick topoint out that there was no need for persons to panic.

He said the health department was addressing the problem with urgency.

"He has responded to treatment and the region has contacted persons with whom he had close contact and advised those persons, as well as the medical facilities in the areas (where) those persons are, so that they can take the necessary precaution," he said.

"It is a concern and that is why we are taking the necessary precautionary measures, but to date we have had no other report of anybody else coming down with the illness."

When quizzed, Gordon conceded that it would be difficult to identify everyone with whom the man had come in contact given that he was not aware of his illness until recently.

"He would not have known that he was carrying that virus until he came down with it. He travelled on aircraft to Jamaica, so it is difficult but we just have to deal with it as rationally as possible," said Gordon.

He added: "The test proved that it was so and the medical facility took the necessary action. There are some diseases that are more infectious than others and the one in question is one and so there is a prescribed protocol that is observed when these things happen and that protocol was observed."

Gordon said: "There is the possibility that other persons are affected but there is no need to say all of Jamaica is affected with malaria."

Gordon added that the man was infected because he failed to observe the standard precautionary measures one should follow when they are visiting certain high-risk countries.

"It is a standard thing. He wasn't the only one who went to Africa but he is the only one who was affected. That simply means that he was the only one who breached. The precautions are there for you to take when you are visiting certain countries," he said.

When contacted, technical director for the region, Dr Patrick Wheatle, refused to comment on the status of the patient.

Residents shocked

Meanwhile, residents of a neighbouring community in Runaway Bay reacted with shock yesterday on hearing the news.

"Let's hope it doesn't spread," said one woman who also expressed fear as she said she visits the community regularly.

Another woman said she saw the health team in the area but thought they were on a routine visit. She too expressed the hope that the Ministry of Health will move speedily to prevent the disease from spreading.

In 2011, the Ministry of Health had confirmed three imported cases of malaria among members of the Haitian under-17 football team who were in the island to participate in the CONCACAF Under-17 Championship being held in Montego Bay, St James.

Carl Gilchrist contributed to this story.

Malaria alert

  • Malaria is a serious disease, which in the worst-case scenario can prove fatal. It is widespread in tropical and subtropical areas.
  • Malaria is transmitted when female Anopheles mosquitoes, infected with any of certain protozoans, bite people.
  • Symptoms of the disease include fever, shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and other flu-like illnesses. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea may also occur.