KINGSTON –– With two pregnant women among the confirmed local Zika virus (ZIKV) cases, the Ministry of Health is putting more emphasis on expectant mothers and their partners as it intensifies activities to fight the mosquito-borne infection.
Calling it the second phase of its response, the ministry has allocated $100 million to ramp up activities.
The first phase, dubbed “Operation: Mosquito Search and Destroy”, focused on cleaning up surroundings to reduce mosquito breeding sites and the prevalence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito — the vector that transmits the viruses that cause dengue, Chikungunya and Zika.
Speaking at a press conference to provide an update on the ZIKV outbreak, Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton disclosed that Jamaica now has 16 confirmed cases of the virus, including the two pregnant women.
In fact, the 16 cases could easily jump to more than 20, as six preliminary positive results are now undergoing a second round of testing at the University Hospital of the West Indies for confirmation.
“As you know, the unborn child is at high risk of developing microcephaly once the woman has been infected with Zika virus while pregnant,” Dr Tufton said. “As part of the second phase of our activities we will be placing more emphasis on pregnant women, their partners and those who develop severe diseases such as Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS), while we continue to engage the population and stress the importance of taking personal responsibility.”
GBS and microcephaly are the two main possible outcomes of Zika that have concerned the global health community.
In fact, even before Jamaica confirmed its first case of the virus on January 29 this year, the Ministry of Health issued an advisory urging women to delay pregnancy because of the link between Zika and microcephaly, a condition in which an infected infant’s head is smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex.
Based on what is known about the link between the two, the risk of microcephaly is highest in the first to second trimester. The Ministry of Health told the Jamaica Observer that the two pregnant women are now in the second trimester.
“As it relates to the pregnant women, we only discovered the first case of Zika back in January, fast-forward nine months to the cycle of pregnancy and the reality is, we will begin, I think, to discover or otherwise, cases in September thereabout,” Dr Tufton said. “. . . We believe that come September and beyond, the risk of seeing some of those cases will increase.”
The Minister of Health said so far, there has been no confirmed case of microcephaly or GBS linked to ZIKV in Jamaica. He said all 16 people affected by ZIKV have “fully recovered”. Dr Tufton said, too, that the pregnant women are being “continuously monitored”.
In intensifying its response to the Zika fight, the ministry will continue to monitor pregnant women at the community level throughout their pregnancies, including providing them with educational support, Dr Tufton said. And, with an estimated 40,000 women becoming pregnant each year, he said the ministry will provide bed nets for every pregnant woman who visits State-run antenatal clinics over the next six months. So far, the ministry has secured 20,000 of those bed nets.
Meanwhile, the ministry will be employing 1,000 workers, initially for three months, to support the public health team in engaging islandwide vector control and public education activities.
Dr Tufton said there will also be heightened house-to-house surveillance, islandwide education sessions through community groups, and vector control activities through fogging and larvicial activities.
The Ministry of Health will also be working closely with health-care providers, the ministries of education and local government, members of parliament, other government agencies, and will continue to work with international partners.
Additionally, the ministry will distribute 50,000 covers for 45- to 55-gallon drums to high-risk communities. Dr Tufton also encouraged householders to treat water collected in these drums once per week with three drops of cooking oil, which will form a film over the water to kill mosquito larvae. He also said the ministry is looking to put fish into tanks.
As of May 25, 2016, a total of 60 countries and territories have reported transmission of the Zika virus, 39 of which are in the Americas.
Going beyond just highlighting the number of confirmed cases, Dr Tufton Thursday divulged that 1,969 notifications for Zika were reported to the ministry as at May 29, 2016.
He said 1,387 of the notifications “fit the case definition for Zika and were classified as ‘suspected Zika fever’,” of which 787 were tested. So far, the ministry has received 403 results of which 16 — eight females and eight males — were positive for Zika.
The ministry estimates that the number of confirmed cases is just a “small portion” of what is the reality in terms of the people who could possibly be infected. In fact, the World Health Organisation indicates that as much as 70 per cent of the population may be infected over time.
“I want to caution persons that if you had symptoms, including fever, rash and red eyes, that could be Zika and later develop weakness of the limbs, as well as shortness of breath, visit the doctor or hospital immediately,” Dr Tufton urged.