Remarks by the Minister of Health, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton: Zika Virus Press Briefing June 02, 2016

Remarks by the Minister of Health
Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton
Zika Virus Press Briefing
Thursday, June 2, 2016 at 10:30 a.m.
Ministry of Health, 7th Floor Conference Room, 10-16 Grenada Way, Kingston 5

I want to thank the media for the continued support and our partnership which has ensured that our messages to empower Jamaicans to secure their health have had a wide a reach. Today we will update you on the current situation in relation to the zika virus outbreak.

Cases of Zika virus
A total of one thousand nine hundred and sixty nine (1,969) notifications for Zika have been reported to the Ministry of Health as at 29 May 2016. Of these notifications, one thousand three hundred and eighty seven (1,387) fit the case definition for Zika and were classified as “Suspected Zika fever”. We have received the highest number of notifications from Kingston and St. Andrew (465) followed by St. Catherine (405).

Of these seven hundred and eighty seven (787) which were tested, four hundred and three (403) results have been received of which sixteen (16) were positive for Zika virus, another six (6) preliminary positive results are now undergoing a second round of testing at UHWI for confirmation. Two of the 16 confirmed positive are pregnant women who will be continuously monitored. Samples were tested both at the UHWI and CARPHA labs.

All confirmed cases of the zika virus have fully recovered. There were eight (8) males and eight (8) females; seven (7) of which are from St Catherine, one (1) from St Thomas and eight (8) from Kingston and St Andrew.

We estimate that this number of confirmed cases is just a small portion of what is actually the reality in terms of the persons who could possibly be infected as the WHO indicates that as much as 70% of the population of a country may be infected over time. However:
 Only one out of four of the infected persons will have symptoms.
 Up to fifty percent (50%) of symptomatic persons may be sick enough to need to see the doctor.
 Fewer still of those infected who visit the doctor will have their blood taken in order to confirm zika virus infection.
 Of the persons who are ill only about 1 in 1,000 may have severe symptoms.

We are also aware of reports of clusters of persons with rash that is suspected to be zika; these are being investigated. These reports have primarily been in Kingston, St. Catherine, Westmoreland and Clarendon.

There are two (2) main possible outcomes of zika that have concerned the global health community and are also of concern to us. These are not new diseases; we have had to deal with both microcephaly and cases of Acute Flaccid Paralysis – under which Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS) falls. So far we have had no confirmed case of Microcephaly or GBS linked to Zika virus. We have had one (1) case of microcephaly reported which was investigated and found to be negative for Zika. We are currently managing seven (7) cases of GBS; three (3) at Spanish Town Hospital, three (3) at KPH and one (1) at UHWI. Results as at June 1, 2016 showed that the patient at UHWI and two of the patients at Spanish Town Hospital are Zika negative.

Since the start of the year we have been actively searching for cases of GBS and we have so far investigated thirteen (13), six (6) of which also tested negative for Zika virus infection. (Although I must caution that a negative zika test does not absolutely rule out zika association due to the short window of 3 to 5 days for testing).

We have been preparing the sector for any increase in these severe forms of the illness. The health practitioners in the public and private sector have been informed and clinical guidelines have been provided and are available on our website. We have in stock adequate supplies of the requisite medication to appropriately treat all forms of zika manifestation. We will continue to monitor and procure as is necessary.

Ongoing Activities and Public Health Response for the Second Phase of the Outbreak
As you know, the unborn child is at high risk of developing microcephaly once the woman has been infected with Zika virus while pregnant. 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 disease such as GBS while we continue to engage the population and stress the importance of taking personal responsibility.

We will continue to make provisions for a possible increase in cases with severe disease and so will be doing the following:
 Working closely with the health care providers in the public and private sector.
 Employing one thousand (1000) workers to support the public health team in engaging in island-wide community vector control and public education activities.
 Working closely with the Ministry of Local Government, Ministry of Education, Members of Parliament, other Government agencies such as HEART Trust and community based groups.
 Hosting island-wide education sessions working through agencies such as the Social Development Commission, Neighbourhood Watch and the police to get to communities.
 Continuing the monitoring of pregnant women at the community level throughout their pregnancies including providing them with educational support.
 Providing 20,000 bed nets over six months to all pregnant women who visit our antenatal clinics.
 Enhancing Risk Communication/Public Education through various media and fora including town hall meetings in high risk and other communities.
 Carrying out Vector Control activities through ‘fogging’ and larvicidal activities
 Conducting Heighten House to House Surveillance in sections of the population where the infection has been notified and/or confirmed.
 Working with the international partners such as PAHO/WHO/CARPHA/CDC to ensure that our actions are aligned with international standards and best practices.

Individual Responsibility
We are all at risk of zika infection. The Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads the virus lives here with us. This means that we all have to take action not only to reduce breeding but also to protect ourselves from mosquito bites. Yesterday marked the official start of the hurricane season which is also the rainy season. Already we have been getting increased rainfall which has resulted in an increase in the mosquito population.

Given the fact that 45 to 55 gallon drums used to store water for domestic use are among the main breeding sites, we will be focusing on how persons can deal with these containers: We seek to promote the following behaviours targeting householders in particular:
a. Ensure that drums used for storing water are tightly covered with plastic or mesh. In this regard, with the assistance of Food for the Poor, we will provide 50,000 drum covers which will be distributed to high risk communities. We will also have dialogue with the private sector to see how we can have these drum covers manufactured and made available through hardware stores.
b. Ensure that your open drums that are used to collect water are treated once per week with three drops of cooking oil to form a film over the water to kill mosquito larvae.
c. Look around your home, school, workplaces, church at least once per week for ten minutes at a time for any container that can hold water

We must all take responsibility for safeguarding our health by protecting ourselves from mosquito bites and really focus on reducing mosquito breeding sites in our surroundings.

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. We are calling on the media to assist in helping us to carry the message to all corners of Jamaica as only a National effort will enable us to overcome these challenges.

The Ministry of Health will continue to update the nation on this matter and I will be making a statement in Parliament next Tuesday to provide any further update.

Thank you.