Last week Thursday morning (June 2, 2016), the Ministry of Health (MOH) held a press briefing to give an update on the current situation regarding the zika virus outbreak in Jamaica. Minister of Health, Dr Christopher Tufton, made an initial statement and was supported during the question and answer session by MOH Permanent Secretary, Dr Kevin Harvey & Chief Medical Officer, Dr Winston De La Haye. Also participating in the briefing was Dr Noreen Jack, PAHO/WHO representative in Jamaica.
Dr Tufton first gave his statement, the text of which can be seen on the MOH website, but he and others gave additional information during the briefing. He has also posted the link to his Periscope video of the briefing on his Facebook page. (The video does not contain the entire briefing; however, it contains a substantial amount.) Below is some of the information given during the briefing.
Ministry of Health Zika statistics as of May 29, 2016
- 1969 notifications
- 1387 notifications fit the case definition for suspected zika
- 465 suspected cases in Kingston & St Andrew
- 405 suspected cases in St Catherine
- 787 samples tested
- 403 test results received
- 16 positives for zika, with lab test confirmation
- 6 additional preliminary positives now being retested
- 2 pregnant women have tested positive
- all 16 positive cases have fully recovered
Dr Tufton said that 16 confirmed cases doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground, which is why the MOH is also giving the numbers of suspected cases at this time.
The MOH is also investigating clusters of people with rash that is suspected to be zika; these reports are coming primarily from the parishes of Kingston, St Catherine, Westmoreland and Clarendon.
Microcephaly & Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS)
At the briefing, an update was given on the two main complications of zika infection which have been of concern to the MOH, as they have been to the global community – microcephaly and GBS. So far there have been no confirmed cases of microcephaly or GBS linked to zika virus in Jamaica.
- 1 case of microcephaly reported; on investigation found to be negative for zika. Woman would have become pregnant before zika reported in island.
- Dr Harvey noted that there is no baseline data for microcephaly in Jamaica, as it is not a reportable condition.
- MOH is now going back and doing docket searches to establish a baseline.
- The head circumference of all babies born in medical facilities is now being measured.
- MOH will be monitoring carefully, particularly from September onwards, which will be 9 months since first confirmed case of zika.
- 7 cases of GBS are currently being managed; 3 at Spanish Town Hospital, 3 at Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) & 1 at University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI).
- Results as at June 1, 2016 showed that the patient at UHWI and 2 of the patients at Spanish Town Hospital are zika negative.
- Since start of 2016, MOH has been actively searching for cases of GBS. So far 13 investigated, 6 of which also tested negative for zika.
- Dr Tufton cautioned that a negative zika test does not absolutely rule out zika association, due to the short window of 3 to 5 days for testing.
Going Forward: The 2nd Phase of the Outbreak
During the second phase of its activities, the Minister indicated that there will be more focus on pregnant women and their partners, as well as those who develop severe complications such as GBS. The MOH will continue “to engage the population and stress the importance of taking personal responsibility.”
Among the activities listed were the following:
- Employing 1000 temporary workers to support the public health team in engaging in island-wide community vector control and public education activities.
- 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 antenatal clinics; these nets have been obtained with the help of Food for the Poor.
- Carrying out Vector Control activities through ‘fogging’ and larvicidal activities.
- Conducting heightened 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 MOH actions are aligned with international standards and best practices.
Dr Harvey noted that reporting of zika cases is currently a manual process, but that the MOH is working on a web-based form, which it intends to roll out in a couple of weeks. Dr De La Haye indicated that some doctors have said that they find the form long & that a review is underway. He also reiterated that the MOH doesn’t wait for confirmation of zika cases before it takes action, but acts on reports of suspected cases. He said that some doctors have indicated that they are seeing as many as 20-25 cases of zika per day.
One question from a reporter was whether there has been a decrease in the number of pregnancies, given the MOH advice to women earlier this year to delay pregnancies. Dr Harvey responded that what is counted is births, and so any such decrease could only be noted later in the year. (Dr Tufton had indicated earlier in the briefing that there are approximately 40,000 births annually in Jamaica.)
The Olympic Games in Brazil
In response to a question, Dr Tufton said that the MOH did have concerns about our athletes going to the Olympics and continued to monitor the international debate regarding postponement of the games, though not a part of such discussions. He said that the MOH would be proactive in ensuring that athletes and supporters were given appropriate information and support, and that they understood the risks. On their return, people would be monitored for zika symptoms.
Dr Jack added that at this point WHO advice is not to stop the Olympics. She said that 60 countries have active zika transmission and that the risk of visiting Brazil is no greater than visiting any other country with active transmission. She said that current advice is that pregnant women not travel to countries with active zika transmission; others may travel, but are advised to take the recommended precautions to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes. It is advised that people are monitored for symptoms on return and that they abstain from sex or have safe sex for a month to prevent sexual transmission of zika.
(Last week a WHO spokesperson said that the Emergency Committee on zika will discuss concerns about zika and the Olympic Games at a meeting in June.)
Dr Tufton said that he will be giving a report on zika to Parliament on Tuesday, June 7 and will give additional details during that report.
PS: Live Coverage of Media Briefing
On the morning of the briefing, I called both the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) and the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) to find out if either would be carrying live coverage of the event. I was very disappointed to find out that neither agency planned to do so.
I certainly appreciate the live coverage that did take place:
- Minister Tufton carried the briefing live via Periscope on his Twitter account: @christufton
- Jamaica News Network (part of the RJR Group) carried live coverage on television & online
- Power106FM interrupted their regular programming to carry part of the briefing live.
It is not acceptable, however, that a public health briefing of this nature and importance was not carried live by either of the government broadcasting agencies.