Sunday 15 December, 2019

Health Ministry says no cause for panic about dengue

National Epidemiologist, Dr Karen Webster-Kerr, addressing concerns relating to dengue fever at a press briefing by the Health Ministry at its New Kingston office on Wednesday. Beside her is the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie.
(Photos: Marlon Reid)

National Epidemiologist, Dr Karen Webster-Kerr, addressing concerns relating to dengue fever at a press briefing by the Health Ministry at its New Kingston office on Wednesday. Beside her is the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie. (Photos: Marlon Reid)

Health Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, and his technocrats are stressing that while there has been a drastic increase in the number of dengue fever cases on the island, it is not at a stage where Jamaicans should be panicking.

Tufton, surrounded by technocrats at the Ministry of Health's New Kingston office on Wednesday, gave details about the island's fight against the vector-borne disease, as well as the influenza virus.

Joining Tufton at the press conference were Permanent Secretary, Dunstan Bryan; Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie; National Epidemiologist, Dr Karen Webster-Kerr; and Head of the Promotion and Protection Branch, Dr Simone Spence.

Health Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, and Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jacqueline Bisasor, in conversation at the press conference.

According to Webster-Kerr, the dengue disease surfaced in Jamaica in 1977, and the recent trend is that an outbreak occurs every two to four years, with the last being two years ago.

She said that while the suspected cases of dengue fever have increased to 570 from the 170 over the same period last year, it is not considered an outbreak. She said of the number of suspected cases, there have only been nine confirmed cases, with tests being conducted on the others.

Webster-Kerr said: "we are having a more active season, however, it is not an outbreak at this time, but we continue to monitor the levels of dengue."

According to Webster-Kerr, for dengue hemorrhagic, a rare complication of the disease, there have been 70 suspected cases compared to 38 last year, with six suspected deaths, the same number at this time last year.

Tufton said: "it is quite clear that we are having an active season in terms of vector-borne illnesses and in particular the aedes aegypti and its impact on persons who are suspected with dengue at 570 from 170 suspected cases (last year), is definitely a big increase and we know that Jamaicans are concerned.

"I have gotten the calls and the texts and WhatsApps. I know persons have concluded that it’s a major crisis. It is not a crisis, but it is also a reason to be concerned as citizens to take whatever precaution is necessary, and the first line of defence is to attempt to control your own environment as it relates to breeding sites," Tufton said.

Permanent Secretary, Dunstan Bryan (centre), addressing Wednesday's press conference flanked by Health Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, and Head of the Promotion and Protection Branch, Dr Simone Spence.

According to Spence, the ministry will continue to maintain its vigilance in the effort to control vector-borne disease. She said since 2016, the ministry has employed temporary workers during the period of seasonal increase between July and December, with approximately 900 being employed this year.

She said that there has been an increase in the number of visits to communities, and cited Portland as an example where the additional activities have resulted in a reduction in vector-borne diseases.

Spence, however, said more needs to be done by households, as when there are repeat visits, there is still a 62 per cent case of sites for the breeding of the aedes aegypti mosquitos.

Bisasor-McKenzie implored Jamaicans to visit a medical practitioner if they are having severe symptoms. She said while most cases of dengue and influenza are mild, with fever, joint pain and muscle pain, concerns should start to heighten when individuals start coughing up blood and are not tolerating any fluid, with the risk of becoming dehydrated, or they are getting sicker and not getting better.

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