Right Steps & Poui Trees


Jamaica & #Zika One Year Later: First Probable Case of Zika-Related Microcephaly

On January 30, 2016, the Ministry of Health (MOH) notified the public of Jamaica’s first confirmed case of the zika virus. Almost a year later it has notified the public of the first probable case of a baby born with zika-related microcephaly.

The MOH post on its website gave brief information about the case and some background information regarding actions taken and to be taken by the Ministry. (Click here for full brief.)moh-1st-probable-case-zika-related-microcephaly-post-19-1-17

dr-winston-de-la-hayeIn media interviews, Chief Medical Officer Dr Winston De La Haye indicated that the baby had been born in late December 2016 at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital, that the mother had had a rash during her pregnancy and that tests done for other possible causes of microcephaly, such as HIV  and toxoplasmosis, had come back negative. He said that the Ministry is now awaiting results of tests for zika infection in the baby, which would confirm this as zika-related microcephaly, if the results are positive. He also spoke about the support which will be given to the family and the baby over the coming years.

Dr De La Haye noted that to date there have been 21 suspected cases of zika-related microcephaly in Jamaica, but only this one probable case and no confirmed cases.Suspected, probable and confirmed cases are classified as follows:

We wait to see if this probable case is confirmed and if there are more babies born with probable or confirmed conditions related to zika infection. Jamaica, like so many other countries which have had a zika outbreak, may not experience the level of problematic conditions in babies that has been documented in Brazil.

Other Caribbean countries, including Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada and Guadeloupe, have reported confirmed cases of Zika congenital syndrome.

Zika Outbreak Data

The following chart showing zika data from August – December 2016 is compiled from data posted in periodic updates on the MOH website. The actual number of zika infections would be significantly higher than given, taking into consideration those who had symptoms but never visited a doctor or clinic, those doctors who may not have reported all cases they saw and those people who had a zika infection but never displayed any symptoms. moh-zika-data-chart-aug-dec-2016

The October 26, 2016 MOH brief, also on the website,  contains further information about the status of the zika outbreak in Jamaica at that point in time, such as this figure showing the distribution of zika across the parishes:moh-zika-brief-26-10-16

and this section giving figures for cases of dengue and chikungunya during the same period.moh-zika-brief-26-10-16-arboviruses

A year after the first confirmed case of zika in Jamaica, the outbreak is long past its peak; the number of reported cases has been on a downward trend for months. Now we wait to see what level of impact the virus has on babies being born in the wake of the outbreak. It will also be useful to see at some point an assessment of the government’s overall response to the outbreak.

 

 


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Jamaica: #Zika At The Beginning of September

After a hiatus of more than three weeks, Jamaica’s Ministry of Health (MOH) has posted a new zika update on its website. This update gives data received by the MOH as of August 26, 2016, which I have incorporated into the chart below:MOH zika data 26-8-16 - chart(The 8 reports are all posted on the MOH website, in the Press Releases section.)

More cases of zika than the numbers show

The numbers in this chart reflect the changing situation over a two month period regarding the zika outbreak. It is important to note, however, that the actual situation on the ground is vastly different for a variety of frequently articulated reasons:

  • it is estimated that as many as 80% of people who become infected with the zika virus never show any symptoms, and therefore wouldn’t be represented in the  data;
  • many people experience only mild symptoms during a zika infection and do not seek medical care;
  • doctors and other medical staff do not necessarily report all those they suspect of having zika, although it is a Class 1 Notifiable disease, requiring notification within 24 hours.

Increasing numbers in two-month period

The increased numbers being reported are indicative not only of the actually increasing numbers of zika infections, but probably also of increased awareness of the disease, as well as increased reporting. The figures over the two-month period show the following:

  • the numbers of zika notifications and suspected cases of zika have both more than doubled;
  • the number of confirmed cases of zika has more than tripled;
  • there has been a dramatic increase in suspected cases of zika in pregnant women, from 88 to 470;
  • the number of confirmed cases of zika in pregnant women has increased significantly from 4 to 31.

Guillain Barre Syndrome – increased cases & 6 deaths

The number of Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS) notifications has more than doubled during this two month period, as has the number of suspected cases among these notifications. Suspected cases are those that on further evaluation fit the case definition for GBS based on clinical signs, symptoms and investigation results. To date, zika has been lab confirmed in only 3 of these suspected cases of GBS.

Dr De La HayeHowever, the situation with GBS is of increasing concern, with Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Winston De La Haye confirming that as of September 2 there have been 6 GBS-related deaths. In none of these cases has it yet been confirmed that the deceased had a zika infection; test results have come back negative in two cases and the results are pending in the others. The first of these GBS-related deaths was on June 26, and in this instance the deceased tested negative for zika, but positive for both dengue and chikungunya. The two most recent deaths occurred this week.

Communication in the context of zika

Earlier this week, the Opposition Spokesman on Health Horace Dalley (who is the former Minister of Health) made a public statement about the death of a patient at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) on Tuesday. Initially the MOH was unable to confirm the death. In subsequent interviews, Dr De La Haye said that communication with the MOH was being improved, as it was obviously a problem that Mr Dalley knew of the death at KPH, when he did not.

The MOH is also seeking to increase access to information about zika through the provision of two additional phone numbers that the public can call with questions about zika. This is being done through the MOH’s National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC) and is aimed particularly at providing information for pregnant women. The numbers are 537-1709 & 536-9125 and can be called Mondays to Fridays, 8:00am to 4:00pm.

I was very encouraged when the MOH began to post updates of the zika numbers on its website two months ago, and I was disappointed when the effort seemed to falter. I hope that the MOH will try to post the new figures regularly, perhaps on a weekly basis. This would be one useful – and fairly straightforward way – of providing ongoing data to the public.

 

 

 


Ministry of Health Jamaica: 6 weeks of #zika numbers

On July 5, the Ministry of Health (MOH) in Jamaica began posting updates on its website regarding the number of zika cases. The first update was for data as of June 25, 2016 and since then the MOH has posted a further 6 updates, the most recent of which was posted on August 8 and contained the numbers up to August 5, 2016. All 7 updates are currently available on the MOH website, but for easy review I have included the chart below:

MOH zika updates June 25 - August 5 2016

One of the questions which remains for me is why there have been so few confirmed cases, given the steadily increasing numbers of reported and suspected cases. It would be useful for the MOH to publish data regarding the number of samples submitted for testing, the number of tests completed and the outcomes of these tests.

It would also be useful for the MOH to make public any reports on any problems being experienced with the testing that has been and is being done. I had asked some time ago, for example, about a doctor’s comment on having heard from two sources that a lack of a reagent had been hampering the testing of samples.

Sloper on FB

Dr Tufton had said via Twitter that he would check on that report. I haven’t heard an update from Dr Tufton on that reported lack of reagent, but it is entirely possible that I missed his update.

I heard CMO Dr De La Haye saying on a radio programme this morning (Nationwide News Network) that routine testing of all pregnant women could cost as much as J$100 million. If such an expenditure is being contemplated, it would be good to have an assurance that the process would be reliable.

The zika outbreak and its impacts continue to unfold, and the provision of information continues to be an important aspect of the government response.

 


Jamaica: Increased #Zika Numbers & Some Questions

I wrote about zika on Tuesday (July 5) and here I am writing about it again, primarily because I heard Minister of Health Christopher Tufton talking with journalist Cliff Hughes on his programme on Power106FM yesterday, and there was some updated information that caught my attention.

Minister Tufton MOH photo

Minister Tufton

Cliff Hughes NNN photo

Cliff Hughes

Additionally, some other questions and concerns have been milling around in my head for a while, and I thought I would transfer them from brain to blog.

 

Ministry of Health Zika Update, as of July 1, 2016

At the beginning of the interview, Minister Tufton shared that his son now has zika, with mild symptoms so far, and he reiterated that the World Health Organization (WHO) projection is that approximately 70% of the population will get zika. He also noted that the majority of zika cases have mild symptoms, with approximately 1% being severe.

The updated figures for zika that he gave stood out for me, particularly the number of pregnant women with suspected zika infection, which was significantly higher than the figure he had given at the Ministry of Health (MOH) press briefing two days before. This sent me to the MOH website, but I didn’t seriously think I would find the new data there. O ye of little faith! The website had been updated today, and there was a document entitled Zika Update as at July 01, 2016. (Is a trend in posting regular updates now underway? That would be good.)

The following  changes are reflected between the June 25 & July 1 reports:

  • Number of notifications                      – from 2825 to 3088
  • Number of suspected cases                – from 2135 to 2183
  • Number of confirmed cases               – from 24 to 26
  • Number of suspected cases in pregnant women    – from 88 to 142
  • Number of notifications for GBS      – from 42 to 53

The most striking change was the reported number of suspected cases of zika infection in pregnant women, which had gone from 88 to 142.

MOH zika in pregnant women 1-7-16

Minister Tufton said it is expected that there will be cases of zika-related microcephaly in babies born later this year. With the first confirmed case of zika in Jamaica being in late January, it is thought that such cases may affect some babies born in September and beyond. He reminded that not all babies born to mothers who have had zika are affected by microcephaly, though he gave a possible figure of 10%. He said that the hospital system was being prepared for this eventuality and that counselling was being and would be provided to pregnant women.

MOH GBS 1-7-16

Speaking about the cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), the Minister told Cliff Hughes that not all cases of GBS require treatment in Intensive Care Units (ICU), but that there have been some severe cases requiring ICU care. He said that during a visit he made to Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) this week, there had been 2 or 3 patients with GBS in ICU there.

Some Questions for the Minister

 

 

 

In speaking with Mr Hughes, Minister Tufton indicated that he and others at the MOH were committed to handling the zika outbreak with transparency, having learned lessons from the handling of the chikungunya epidemic in 2014. He said:

Jamaicans need to know what they are confronting, what the risk factors are and what they need to do in preventing and, if they can’t prevent, how they need to follow up…We shouldn’t hide anything from the public; we should go out of our way to explain to the public the issues at hand. – Minister Tufton (transcribed from recording of interview with Cliff Hughes on Power106FM, July 7, 2016)

The MOH has been providing more information about zika than it did for ChikV and the Minister certainly seems to be committed to providing such information. With that in mind, I ask the following questions:

Blog questions 1

blog question zika

blog questions 2

(Click for copy of MOH Zika-update-of-as-at-July-1-2016)

 

 


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Jamaica: #Zika Update…On the Ministry of Health Website, No Less!

Christopher-Tufton-WebListening to the news at midday today, I heard a report of an update given by Minister of Health Christopher Tufton about the current situation with the zika virus here in Jamaica. As the news report was read, I madly tried to scribble down the figures being given…number of reported, suspected and confirmed cases, etc. I was particularly interested in the number of pregnant women reported with suspected cases of zika. I thought I heard 88, and began to comb the news sites online and on social media to see if I could track down the figure. No luck. I was about to send Minister Tufton a tweet or to call Power 106 to see if I could speak with someone in their news room.

And then I decided to check the Ministry of Health website, though I had little hope of finding any current figures there, based on past experience.

Eureka! Look what I found! A downloadable, written document entitled “Zika update as at June 25, 2016“, posted on the website today, July 5, 2016! Hallelujah!MOH zika update 25-6-16

 

Seriously though, this is a significant development in keeping the public informed, that on the same day the Minister gives an update to the media, a document containing the figures is posted on the MOH website. I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of a trend.

The full document (3 pages long) is available on the website and I have included it here: MOH Zika-update-of-as-at-June-25

Of particular note are the general update regarding number of cases, with 24 confirmed cases as of June 25, 2016:

MOH zika cases 25-6-16

and the number of pregnant women with suspected cases of zika:

MOH zika and pregnancy 24-6-16

Providing reliable, easily accessible official information to the public on a regular basis is essential during a public health situation such as this.

 

 

 


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Jamaica: Ministry of Health #Zika Virus Update – June 2, 2016

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.

moh 2-6-16

L to R: Dr De La Haye, Minister Tufton, Dr Harvey

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.

MOH zika briefing 2-6-16 Tufton ab

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.

Microcephaly

  • 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.

GBS

  • 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.

moh ps harvey 2-6-16Dr 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. moh dlh 2-6-16Dr 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.)

moh who rep 2 2-6-16

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.

 

 


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350 Words Or Less: Where Are We With #Zika Outbreak in #Jamaica?

Last night I was very puzzled when I took a look at PAHO/WHO’s Zika – Epidemiological Update  for April 28, 2016. These updates are posted weekly on their website.

paho who zika alerts page with border

PAHO/WHO Epidemiological Alerts and Updates

In the section on Incidence and Trends, the April 28 Update had the following about Jamaica:

paho who update 28-4-16 jamaica border

paho who update 28-4-16 jamaica A with border

Where exactly do we stand in terms of the Zika outbreak in Jamaica? This report seems to be saying that the outbreak here began in October 2015 (EW 39), when there was one reported suspected case. The highest number of suspected cases (162) was reported in the first week of February 2016 (EW5), with decreasing numbers of suspected cases susequently. Is this pattern agreed by the Ministry of Health (MOH)? If so, what does this mean in terms of expected incidence of zika? And if not, what does the MOH say about where we are in terms of the outbreak?

The number of suspected cases I have mentioned are taken from an interactive graph on the PAHO/WHO site. Pointing to each bar in the graph  gives the number of confirmed and suspected cases reported for that week.  PAHO/WHO interactive chart of suspected & confirmed Zika cases 

 

 

paho who interactive chart 28-4-16 update with borders

Unfortunately the MOH website doesn’t provide any such data. In a situation as rapidly changing as the zika outbreak is, it isn’t acceptable that the Ministry’s website isn’t being updated regularly in respect of this and other viruses (dengue and H1N1 influenza in particular) now circulating in Jamaica.

MOH representatives, including Minister Tufton, CMO Dr De La Haye and Director of Health Promotion and Protection Dr Copeland, seem to be readily available to the media, and are often heard giving updates. They share data about samples for testing and confirmed cases, etc. But this data is not posted to the website, where it can be accessed in more permanent form. The MOH website should be the go-to source for this kind of information.

NB As of today, there are still only 8 confirmed zika cases for Jamaica. But how many suspected cases are there? You can find a news report on Irie FM, for example, but not on the MOH website.

irie fm zika 5-5-16 copeland

Enter a caption

 

 

 

 


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But Won’t They Panic If We Tell Them?- Communication re #ZikaVirus & other health emergencies

I found myself nodding in agreement frequently as I watched a presentation given by Dr Barbara Reynolds at the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s (CDC) Zika Action Plan Summit which was held in Atlanta, GA on April 1. The title of Dr Reynolds’ talk was “Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication: What the public needs when risks are uncertain”. (Scroll down for link to presentations.)

As I watched the live stream of the presentation, I kept thinking back to a number of public health situations in the past couple of years when the Jamaican public would have benefited from better communication by Government agencies:

  • the chikungunya/ChikV epidemic in 2014
  • the Riverton dump fire in 2015
  • the problems in health facilities & deaths of premature babies in 2015.

And although the current situations with Zika virus and H1N1 influenza virus are being handled significantly better, there are still some ways in which communication can be improved.

Dr Barbara Reynolds’ Presentation

Dr Reynolds defined crisis and risk communication as “the kind of communication that leaders will do, along with their experts, to help people and communities make the best possible decisions when the information is imperfect and we’re under impossible time constraints.”  Early in her presentation, she made a very important statement:

cdc barbara reynolds

“And it may be actually surprising to learn that people can accept bad news more easily than they can accept uncertainty.”

 

I didn’t actually find this surprising, as from experience I know it is true. With bad news, you know more clearly where you stand and what actions you need to take; with uncertainty, you don’t know where you stand and decisions about what actions to take are that much more difficult. Dr Reynolds emphasized that during such times the public need to have the facts and need to be empowered by having not just the how of what to do, but also the why.CDC zika Reynolds slide for blog 1

 

In discussing common communication failures, she noted that “a poor operational response cannot be saved by good communication….[and] a good operational response can be spoiled by poor communication.” cdc zika Reynolds slide for blog 2Numbers 2 and 3 on this list  – late release of information & paternalistic attitudes – certainly were among the problems with the communication responses we experienced during the three health crises I mentioned earlier.

 

Dr Reynolds  said she had seen over the years that:

“people often talk about changing messages based on the fear that people will panic. Panic behaviour is actually very rare, but if it does happen the research tells us it happens when there’s no credible authority  and all options seem equal. So what we should be working towards is being as credible as possible at every stage along this response.”

She discussed six principles of Crisis and Risk Communication, which were a useful framework for developing messages.

cdc zika Reynolds slide for blog A4cdc zika Reynolds slide for blog 4

The issue of credibility and trust was raised repeatedly, and the need for these qualities in leaders and spokespersons communicating with the public. Dr Reynolds stated that:

“Condescension is the number one failure in good communication in a response.” 

cdc zika Reynolds slide for blog 5

She shared a number of communication lessons particularly relevant to the developing situation with Zika, where there is a lot still not known about the virus and knowledge is being added to almost on a daily basis.

cdc zika Reynolds slide for blog 6

Dr Reynolds began with and ended with the following message:

cdc zika Reynolds slide for blog 7

Jamaica’s Communication Responses

I believe lives were lost because of both the poor operational response and communication response to the ChikV epidemic. Despite prior warning years before, the Jamaican Government failed to prepare adequately for the possibility of an epidemic. And the poor communication response failed to inform the public adequately about the risks. The initial messages downplayed the risks, which was particularly dangerous for those with pre-existing medical conditions and vulnerable groups such as the elderly. There was also a failure initially to inform the public about the possible medium and long term effects ChikV could have on a percentage of people.

That experience has had an impact on the response to Zika virus to date, not solely because of the toll it took on the lives and health of Jamaicans, but also because of the political fallout. As continues to be shown , the full impact of Zika is not yet known to the scientists and medical practitioners, the public health authorities and political leaders or the public. In this situation, with more possible impacts being discovered and discussed on an ongoing basis, it is essential that the public is kept informed and updated.

Public health spokespersons have been far more visible and accessible, both regarding Zika and the H1N1 flu virus since the start of 2016. It is good to see and hear from the Ministry of Health’s current Chief Medical Officer Dr Winston De La Haye and other Ministry spokespersons on radio and TV and in the print media. Both the current Minister of Health Christopher Tufton and his predecessor Horace Dalley learned lessons from the experience of Dr Fenton Ferguson, whose handling of the ChikV crisis was devastating. I know that Jamaica has experts with the skills and experience to handle communication during public health emergencies, and we must benefit fully from this expertise.

One way in which we need to improve is in making information accessible in more permanent and official ways. For example, although Dr De La Haye and other Ministry of Health representatives give updates about numbers of confirmed cases, number of samples tested, etc, this data is not routinely made available on the Ministry’s website. So if you miss the update in the media, there isn’t a clear place to go to to retrieve it. It is also important that the public aren’t left to guess when the next update will be. More information is also needed regarding Jamaica’s state of readiness to deal with a possible increase in cases of microcephaly, Guillain-Barre Syndrome and other neurological disorders being associated with Zika virus outbreaks.

Zika virus is being increasingly regarded as a puzzling and complex virus, with possible severe effects, despite its relatively mild symptoms. Effective communication with the public is essential, though challenging.

Links to CDC Presentations

cdc zap reynolds

Dr Reynolds’ presentation is available here.

cdc zap you tube reynolds Video recording of Dr Reynolds’ presentation available here. (Starts at 3:54)

cdc zap web page Link to CDC Zika Action Plan Summit page with presentations & other resources

 

 

 


#ZikaVirus Update: Jamaica, Caribbean & Beyond

The news regarding the Zika virus is being updated all the time. Underlying the updates is an acute awareness of how much is not yet known about the virus and its effects, how much there is still to learn. Almost on a daily basis, new information about the virus’ spread is reported. In this post, I’ll touch on a few of these updates.

Jamaica: 7 weeks after 1st confirmed case of Zika, 4 new cases confirmed

Up until Thursday, March 17, 2016, Jamaica had one confirmed case of Zika virus, a case which had been confirmed on January 29. The 4-year-old child had started to show symptoms on January 17. This was the first confirmed case and remained the only confirmed case for the following 7 weeks.

As I was driving to a Technical Update on Zika, Gillain-Barre & Microcephaly being held on the evening of March 17 at the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona, this was the foremost question in my mind: Why hadn’t there been any further cases of Zika reported? I wondered what explanations the experts might have for this.

The Technical Update was a collaboration by UWI, the Ministry of Health and PAHO/WHO. A PAHO/WHO technical team was in Jamaica for consultations and the opportunity was seized to have an update which was open to the public.

IMG_9911 (2)

Dr Winston De La Haye, Chief Medical Officer, was chairing the proceedings and after the opening remarks, the first presentation began. Dr Stephane Hugonnet of WHO presented on Zika and arbovirus surveillance, microcephaly and other neurological disorders – recent evidence & implications for health systems. IMG_9648 (2)

At the end of his update regarding the global situation, Dr Hugonnet made some comments about the situation regarding the Zika virus in Jamaica. He said that for Jamaica, the epidemic curve of about 95 suspected cases showed a sharp increase, with a peak in week 5, which corresponded with the week in which there was the first confirmed case at the end of January.  This was then followed by a decrease in suspected cases.

IMG_9656 (2)

 

 

Dr Hugonnet said it was very surprising that there hadn’t been any other cases and it was hard to understand having only one case. He said that the surveillance system was working well, and there were suspected cases of dengue, chikungunya or fever and rash that were being picked up and sampled.

He said that it was a priority to assess whether or not the Zika virus was circulating in the country and that it was necessary to strengthen the investigation around the index case, including retesting to check if it was indeed positive. He also advised sampling of the negative tests to see if they were really negative.

Once it was established that the virus was circulating in Jamaica, there would be no need to keep testing all cases. It would then be necessary to monitor the trend of the epidemic and the geographical spread. It would also be necessary to monitor pregnant women and cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), and to establish baseline data for microcephaly and GBS.

At the end of Dr Hugonnet’s presentation, Dr De La Haye resumed the podium to continue his duties as Chairperson. In a rather dramatic turn of events, he told the gathering that on his way to the symposium, he had actually received information that 2 new cases of Zika had been confirmed. This meant that the country now had a total of 3 confirmed cases. He noted that the 2 cases had been confirmed by the recently upgraded Virology Lab at UWI, saying that it was an advantage to have a shorter turn around time for getting test results. (See JIS report regarding UWI Virology Lab upgrade)

MOH zika virus press conference 18-3-16

Ministry of Health press briefing on Zika virus, March 18, 2016 (Far left: Dr De La Haye. 2nd from left Minister Tufton.)

By the time the Ministry of Health held a press briefing the following afternoon (Friday, March 18), the number of confirmed cases had increased to 4. Remarks by Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton at Zika press briefing – 18-3-16 By the post-Cabinet press briefing on Tuesday, March 22, another case had been confirmed, bringing the total to 5. Four of the cases were in Portmore, St Catherine and one was in Lyssons, St Thomas. And it is expected that the number of cases will increase.

moh zika tufton more cases 18-3-16

Representatives of the Ministry of Health have been doing many media interviews, outlining the steps being taken by the Ministry regarding the increased number of cases and reiterating the ongoing public health messages about reducing the risks of being infected by the Zika virus.

Caribbean Public Health Agency Update on Zika in the Caribbean

On March 23, 2016, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) posted a short video in which Executive Director, Dr. C. James Hospedales provided an update on the Zika virus in the Caribbean region. (Click here for video.)carpha zika virus video update 23-3-16Some points made by Dr Hospedales:

  • 15 countries in the region have reported cases of Zika virus transmission in their countries/territories.
  • Microcephaly & Guillain-Barre are rare conditions and are not required to be reported in the Caribbean region, so there is little baseline data on these conditions.
  • CARPHA is now in the process of setting up collection of baseline data.
  • The Caribbean is vulnerable to Zika virus for a number of reasons: a susceptible population which has not met the virus before, wide spread Aedes aegypti mosquitoes & a lot of travel in and out of the region.
  • In another 2 months, many of the countries will see the start of the rainy season, which will increase possibilities for increased mosquito breeding.
  • The two most important messages for stopping the spread of Zika are stopping the mosquito breeding & stopping the mosquitoes biting.

CDC Issues Updated Zika Recommendations to do with Pregnancy and with Sexual Transmission

On March 25, 2016, the US Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), issued an update of its recommendations regarding aspects of Zika Virus. (Click here for full update.)

cdc update re zika 25-3-16

The updated recommendations, which are worth reading in full, are given under 3 headings:

Article 1: Updated interim guidance for pregnant and reproductive age women

Includes the following:

cdc zika 25-3-16 coloured page A

Article 2: Updated interim guidance for preventing sexual transmission of Zika

Includes the following:

cdc zika 25-3-16 coloured page B

Article 3: Increasing access to contraception in areas with active Zika transmission

Includes the following:

cdc zika 25-3-16 coloured page C

(It is significant to note that more than 50% of pregnancies in Jamaica are unintended, which impacts the public health education regarding Zika and pregnancy here also.)

As the spread and impact of the Zika virus continues in the region, we in Jamaica need to keep informed and act on the information to best protect ourselves from this new personal and public health challenge.

 

 


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Zika Virus News Events in Jamaica & Elsewhere

The past few days have been significant ones for news about the Zika virus.

who zika press conference 1-2-16

WHO Press briefing re Zika virus Feb 1, 2016

WHO Declares Public Health Emergency of International Concern

On Monday (Feb 1, 2016), the World Health Organization (WHO)  declared “that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014, constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” (WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan’s statement) This decision was taken after the first meeting of the Emergency Committee which had been convened by the Director-General to look at these clusters in some areas now experiencing outbreaks of Zika virus. (WHO statement on 1st meeting of International Health Regulations Committee on Zika virus)

A Case of Sexually Transmitted Zika in Texas

zika - Dallas release 2-2-16 with highlightingThen yesterday came the headline-catching news from Dallas that the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) had confirmed a case of Zika virus infection which had been sexually transmitted. The Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) sent out a press release about the case. DCHHS Press Release re Sexually Transmitted Case of Zika Virus. A case of sexually transmitted Zika virus was recorded in 2008, but no cases during the current epidemic. (Listen to a 2011 CDC podcast about the 2008 case in Colorado.) Though the main mode of infection remains via the Aedes aegypti mosquito, this new case in Dallas does add another dimension to the current epidemic.

Two Briefings in the Wake of Jamaica’s First Confirmed Case of Zika Virus

Yesterday (Feb2, 2016) in Jamaica the Ministry of Health (MOH) held a press briefing, to update the country about the first confirmed case of Zika virus, which it had informed the public of last Saturday. Five Government Ministers addressed the briefing on aspects of the Government’s actions and plans regarding the Zika outbreak. Also in attendance were some Members of Parliament and Mayors, the MOH Permanent Secretary, the new Chief Medical Officer and a number of other government personnel.

Zika - GOJ press briefing 5 ministers - 2-2-16The Ministers (from left to right) were: Minister of Local Government & Community Development, Noel Arscott; Minister of Youth & Culture, Lisa Hanna; Minister of Information, Sandrea Falconer; Minister of Health, Horace Dalley and Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites.

The video of the press conference is posted online, with the Minister of Health’s comments about the first confirmed case and subsequent actions taken by his Ministry running from 10:37 – 16:46 of the video.

Among the things that Minister Dalley mentioned were that:

  • the child who was the 1st confirmed case of Zika has recovered & no other member of the family is showing symptoms of the disease
  • there is increased fever/rash surveillance in Portmore and the entire island
  • that 1894 households in the particular area have been checked & interviews done with 1355 people
  • that 15 blood samples were taken as a result of the interviews & were sent to the CARPHA lab in Trinidad for Zika testing

The presentations were followed by a question and answer session with journalists.

Last night, zika - PM Simpson Miller 2-2-16Prime Minister Simpson Miller made a national broadcast regarding the preparations to reduce the impact of the Zika virus (video).

Text of National Broadcast re Zika Virus by PM Simpson Miller

At 5:30 that evening, the University of the West Indies (UWI) Faculty of Medical Sciences in collaboration with PAHO/WHO and the MOH held a Public Symposium entitled “Zika Virus Update”. It is a pity that this symposium wasn’t broadcast or recorded, as it was an excellent session, with very informative presentations and a robust question and answer session.UWI Faculty of Med Zika Update 2-2-16 poster with border

The focus of this symposium was obviously different from that of the MOH press briefing in the morning and a great deal of medical and scientific information was given and issues explored. It was particularly useful to have information given about the Jamaican context for the Zika outbreak and the issues arising out of that context. I found Professor Christie’s presentation of particular interest, raising as it did issues about the seriousness of the situation being faced regarding our ability to deal with an increase in cases of children born with possibly severe microcephaly.

A few other issues that came up during the symposium:

  • the impact of the advice for women to postpone pregnancies, given the fact that 50-60% of pregnancies in Jamaica are unplanned
  • whether in Jamaica women will have the option of an abortion in cases of Zika infection
  • the complexities surrounding testing for Zika virus & Jamaica’s current and planned capability for doing such testing
  • whether the current levels of fever/rash surveillance are adequate or should be greatly increased during the early stages of the outbreak

Repeatedly the point was made regarding how much is not yet known about the Zika virus and the possible complications associated with this generally mild to moderate disease. The need for further and ongoing research was stressed, but as Professor Figueroa said, in public health, you need to take the best of what you know and act on it; you can’t tell patients to wait on the results of a study.

There is a need for more opportunities for professionals to share information of this kind regarding Zika, and to be able to answer questions and engage in discussions with members of the public. These opportunities mustn’t be scripted and limited, but must allow for the open exchange of information and for frank discussion. A wide range of options exists for sharing such information and they must be used.