KINGSTON – Close to 200 students at Yallahs Primary School in St Thomas and 25 per cent of its teacher complement were absent from class yesterday, having been forced to stay home consequent upon what school officials say are flu-like symptoms accompanied by fever, severe joint pains and rashes.
Principal Yvette Graham told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that the mass absences began three weeks ago, with approximately 75 of the students reporting ill between last Thursday and yesterday. The school has a student population of 1,208 and a teacher complement of 40.
St Thomas is among the parishes hardest hit by the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, which carries flu-like symptoms similar to what the teachers and students have been afflicted with.
“The students were either sent home after they turned up at the school displaying symptoms of the illness or they failed to turn up for classes,” Graham told the Observer.
“A total of 25 per cent of the school’s teacher population have not turned up for classes; they too have fallen ill,” added Vice-Principal Venice Boyd Blake.
Yesterday, one teacher was seen leaving the institution using a stick as a walking aid as she was said to be experiencing severe joint pains accompanied by other flu-like symptoms.
But Yallahs Primary was not the only school affected, as officials at nearby Newland Basic closed the school for several days last week after more than half the student population and several teachers had similar flu-like symptoms.
Yesterday both teachers and concerned residents called on the Ministry of Health to step up its fogging of the area. One resident, Lillis Ffriend, said over the past week all eight members of her family had fallen ill.
“Yes, it’s true, no test has been done to determine if it’s chikungunya, but we want to know what is this illness that has left people in the town suffering from fever, rash and joint pains,”
Another resident, Kayon Robinson, had similar complaints. Yesterday, Robinson and her family members were all complaining of the same flu-like symptoms that have afflicted so many in the parish. Even members from the business community were complaining.
“Bossy, right now people from left right and centre coming down with this virus and we need Ministry of Health to step up its visits to the parish,” said Hopeton Johnson, who operates his barbershop in the town.
Taxi operators, who ply their trade in another section of St Thomas called Albion, said they were also worried. They complained that visits to the clinics had not helped their situation.
“All that happens when we visit the clinics was that we were given tablets, told to return home and drink a lot of liquid,” said Carl Phillips.
“Right now, several of the operators who you see standing here are just recovering from symptoms of the illness,” Phillips told the Observer.
The residents’ complaints came mere days after the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party warned of a chikungunya epidemic in the island. The Government, however, has accused the opposition of being alarmist with Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson maintaining that there were only 24 “confirmed” cases of the virus in the island as at late August.