Zika virus preparedness in Jamaica gets multi-million-dollar injection

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KINGSTON, Jamaica, Friday January 22, 2016 – As neighbouring islands confirm cases of the Zika virus, the Jamaica government is taking no chances and has pumped J$200 million (US$1.6 million) into prevention and preparedness initiatives across the country.

The money will be used for public education campaigns; increased vector control activities; purchasing pharmaceuticals, equipment and chemicals; and strengthening the Virology Laboratory at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Minister of Health Horace Dalley said on Wednesday.

Nineteen countries in the Americas have now confirmed cases of Zika virus: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, Suriname and Venezuela.

“We have investigated, so far, notifications brought to the Ministry of Health of 12 (suspected) cases of the virus, and we have sent these samples to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) lab in Trinidad and all were negative for the Zika virus,” Minister Dalley said.

Dalley said the public health lab has received an additional five samples for testing. Those were sent off to CARPHA yesterday.

He advised residents that although Jamaica was Zika-free, they should be vigilant and take the necessary measures to eradicate mosquito breeding sites around their homes and communities and prepare themselves for the likely arrival of the virus.

The minister said the population was very susceptible because the Zika Virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito – the same mosquito that spreads dengue and chikungunya.

“This mosquito lives with us and this is a new disease and so the population which has never gotten it before, does not have any sort of immunity. It means that everyone is at risk of getting the Zika virus once it is here in Jamaica,” Dalley contended.

He urged Jamaicans, especially high risk groups, such as pregnant women, to take the necessary precautions to prevent being infected by the disease.

Other high risks groups include: infants, the elderly and persons with non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, arthritis and cancer, sickle cell or a compromised immune system.

Symptoms of Zika virus include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe illness requiring hospitalization is uncommon.

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