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Jamaica on high alert for chikungunya virus

Published:Friday | June 27, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Although there are no reported cases of chikungunya in Jamaica, the Ministry of Health remains on high alert as the mosquito-borne virus continues to spread across the Caribbean.

The country has beefed up its surveillance and vector-control measures amid reports that there are now some 5,000 confirmed cases across 24 countries and territories in the Caribbean.

"At this time, we continue to prepare and watch, with our people trained and ready to respond, if necessary," Neville Graham, director of communications at the Ministry of Health, told The Gleaner yesterday.

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Public Health (BOG) in Suriname confirmed 17 cases of the virus in that country, with widespread infection expected.

Officials from the BOG, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the Pan American Health Organization warned that if precautionary measures were not taken, the virus could affect thousands.

Maureen Van Dijk-Wijngaarde, deputy director of BOG, revealed that the first chikungunya case in Suriname was confirmed on June 7, after a man who returned from vacation in St Martin developed symptoms of the illness. Last week, a second case, a woman who returned from Guyana, was confirmed, while the remaining 15 were confirmed on Wednesday.

"Chikungunya is a new virus for Suriname. Since there is no resistance as yet, everyone here is vulnerable. Therefore, in the coming months, we may expect thousands to be infected by the virus," CARPHA's director, James Hospedales, warned.

Health officials across the Caribbean are urging everyone to take the necessary precautions, as well as to safeguard against containers and areas with water that could be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.