Tue | Oct 22, 2019

Christopher Tufton | Emerging dengue realities a call to action for Jamaicans

Published:Monday | September 23, 2019 | 12:08 AM
Dr Christopher Tufton

AMID THE changing realities affecting mosquito-borne diseases, including dengue, which is likely to become more frequent and aggressive, it is now more important than ever for Jamaicans to individually and collaboratively safeguard their health.

Mosquito-borne diseases represent a clear and present danger to Jamaica, based on global change, which includes population expansion and urbanisation that have seen people concentrated in areas that are without the benefit of the necessary infrastructure for safe water storage and distribution.

Unsafe water storage, including in uncovered containers, as well as used containers that are not properly disposed of, and old tyres, are among the main breeding sites for the Aedes aegypti mosquito that is the primary vector for dengue.

DESTROY THEM

We need to take stock of this and ensure that we are vigilant about destroying breeding sites around our homes, schools and workplaces.

Land-use change, pollution and travel have also contributed to making conditions more favourable for the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. These are in addition to climate change.

Research led by acclaimed local scientist Professor Anthony Chen has shown that higher temperatures associated with climate change mean that the time taken for the dengue pathogen to develop in its intermediate host, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is shortened so that the mosquito is able to transmit the virus more quickly.

Higher temperatures also mean that we get more mosquitoes in a shorter period of time, as its life cycle is shortened. In other words, they move from eggs to adults more quickly. In so doing, the public health threat – with which we have grappled over the last several months – is likely to worsen.

From January 1, 2018, to September 16 this year, Jamaica has seen some 5,669 suspected, presumed or confirmed dengue cases – 1,040 with dates of onset in 2018, and 4,629 with dates of onset this year.

And the island is not alone. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) epidemiological update, published on August 9, revealed that in Latin America and the Caribbean, during the first seven months of 2019, more than two million people contracted the disease and 723 died.

At the same time, across the region, children under 15 years old appear to be among the most affected. In Guatemala, according to PAHO, they represent some 52 per cent of total cases of severe dengue, while in Honduras, they account for some 66 per cent of all confirmed deaths.

In Jamaica, also between January 2018 and September 16, the cases were greatest among the 25 to 59-year age group (1,807 cases), followed by the five to 14-year age group (1,619 cases). However, the highest rate was among the 5-14-year-olds at 389.6 per 100,000 population, followed by children one-to-four years old at 301.3 per 100,000 population.

CALL TO ACTION

These numbers should represent for all of us a clear call to action. I urge all Jamaicans, in addition to destroying mosquito-breeding sites, to make every effort to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. You can put screens on your windows and doors, and use repellant containing DEET, IR3535 or PICARIDIN.

If you suspect you have dengue, visit your health centre or doctor and carefully follow the instructions given. Rest, drink a lot of fluids and use Paracetamol painkillers only.

Finally, we are at that time of year when we must brace for an increase in hospital visits due to dengue, but also the flu and other seasonal illnesses. Typically, this means longer waiting times and some overcrowding, particularly in accident and emergency departments. I urge the public’s patience and understanding as our doctors and nurses work to serve you.

Dr the Hon. Christopher Tufton is the Minister of Health and Wellness in Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com