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Zika fear plummets but Jamaica still on high alert - De La Haye

Published:Wednesday | December 14, 2016 | 12:00 AMSherine Williams
De La Haye

Chief Medical Officer Dr Winston De La Haye says the health ministry has been receiving fewer reports of suspected Zika virus infections, which he says is indicative of the decreased fear that Jamaicans have of the mosquito-borne virus.

However, De La Haye is urging Jamaicans not to allow their decreased discomfort with the disease to stop them from destroying mosquito-breeding sites in their surroundings.

"For example, if we used to have 20 reported cases per week, we are now having a half of that. But we really want to underscore the importance of reducing the mosquito-breeding sites, which is really difficult in Jamaica. Jamaicans respond well to crises, but it's hard to get them to continuously decrease breeding sites around their homes," De La Haye noted.

Last month, The World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the mosquito-borne Zika virus was no longer a global health emergency.

The WHO said that it had lifted the emergency status because Zika had proved to be another dangerous mosquito-borne disease like malaria or yellow fever and should be treated like them.

But with 7,245 suspected cases of the Zika virus already recorded, he said that Jamaica still remained on heightened alert for the disease, adding that the ministry had not scaled down its vector-control activities.

So far, the latest statistics from the health ministry show that it had received 742 notifications of pregnant women with the Zika virus but has only confirmed 77 cases.

De La Haye said that some of the pregnant women who tested positive for Zika have already given birth to babies who, so far, have shown no signs of the Zika virus or related microcephaly.

However, local medical experts are still monitoring these babies and will continue to do so well into their teenage years, especially in light of a new report prepared by medical experts in the US and Brazil, which has emphasised that children born without microcephaly can develop the condition later in life.




"Those who have given birth have all been referred to special clinics because we can't just look at what is presented at birth as some of the issues may not be microcephaly, but they may be learning disorders that won't present themselves until children start school, so a team of experts is monitoring these babies," he said.

As for Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), another Zika-related complication that stirred Jamaica earlier this year, health ministry statistics show that so far, there have been 30 confirmed cases in Jamaica. However, the ministry said that of the 30 confirmed GBS cases, only four have been linked to the Zika virus.

The ministry said that it had been boosting its capacity to deal with a possible increase in GBS cases. It said it had been recruiting specially trained nurses from Cuba to assist with the illness. Also, the ministry said that it had brought in special GBS drugs to treat possible cases.