Is Chikungunya a major concern for Saint Lucians?

Head of Epidemiology Nahum Jn Baptiste:  Has the Ministry been taking the threat of chikungunya as seriously as the rest of Saint Lucia?

Head of Epidemiology Nahum Jn Baptiste:
Has the Ministry been taking the threat of chikungunya as seriously as the rest of Saint Lucia?

Life in the Caribbean has many advantages, being located in the tropics. Unfortunately for us, we also have the problem of dealing with many disgusting and even life-threatening pests. Among the considerable number of creatures that fall under this category is the annoying, and seemingly uncontainable, mosquito.

Over the years, the Caribbean, like the rest of the world, has seen the emergence of the dengue virus, which has caused a considerable number of deaths in the region and affected many people. Earlier this week one of my followers on Twitter tweeted: If people started eating mosquitoes maybe they would finally leave us alone!

Adding to Saint Lucians fear of an upsurge in the dengue fever virus over the past year, is the emergence of a new illness carried by the same dengue mosquito–the virus known as chikungunya.

The chikungunya virus, which had already been confirmed in other islands in the Caribbean, was first suspected in Saint Lucia in January of this year. At the announcement of the suspected arrival of the “new” disease, members of the public again expressed a desire for answers, especially as the word on the street was that it was ‘life-threatening’. Not aiding the cause was the death at that time of a teenage girl from the community of Micoud, who had succumbed to the dengue virus.

With much speculation on the chikungunya issue and the accusations addressed towards the ministry, the Saint Lucia Red Cross Society has recently seemed to be at the forefront of educating the general public on the virus, encouraging awareness and precautionary measures which could be adopted to help contain the mosquitoes and the virus. The STAR on Monday spoke to Hubert Pierre, Director of the Red Cross, on the role that the organization plays in regards to the illness.

“Information on the number of cases must come from the Ministry of Health, they are the authority. Our role is to prevent the spread of the disease in any shape or form that we can. The ministry is the best place to source information [on infection and numbers]. Because they do all the surveillances from every health center and hospital where people visit, and they put figures together. For such cases, we take the lead role because of our position and who we are, but we do work with the ministry of health; but surveillance, infection and treatment, we don’t interfere with that” Pierre explained.

“What we do is provide information in terms of the disease, the outbreak, what can happen, what are the symptoms and things of that nature. It was prevalent in places like Martinique and Dominica, and whoever has the virus can come to Saint Lucia; once bitten by an aedes egypti (dengue) mosquito, it is possible for the mosquito to transmit it to somebody else. So that is our concern.”

“The information we provide is to help get rid of the mosquito itself and to disallow it any breeding grounds. If you get rid of the mosquito, which is the carrier, there will be a reduction or there will be no chikungunya. The chikungunya virus is carried by the same dengue mosquito but it is a new illness that it is carrying. The symptoms are much like those of dengue, but the pain is mainly in the joint areas of the body. You will experience fever which may last up to a week, swelling, stiffness, rash usually occurs two to five days after fever, and of course headache,” confirmed Pierre.

We also spoke to Nahum Jn Baptiste, Chief Epidemiologist for the Ministry of Health. “We have not received the results from the Caribbean Health Public Agency as yet. We have submitted three suspect cases of chikungunya to the Caribbean Health Public Agency, because we do not have the capacity to do the chikungunya test here in Saint Lucia. We have not gotten confirmation on the cases as yet because normally that would take about two weeks. I think with the fact that there have been outbreaks in some of the other Caribbean countries, we may have been put on the back burner,” said Jn Baptiste.

He went on to confirm that the three cases suspected for chikungunya were submitted last week and that these were the first set of suspected cases that they have had.

“Based on the symptoms, some of the cases we have had, persons are not presenting with the classic joint pain. So what we do when we have a negative dengue with the joint pain, we submit it to the Caribbean Health Public Agency. So its only three suspect cases have been found so far.”

Jn Baptiste continued: “Truth be told, we started to actually actively look for it last week. So we’ve sensitized our doctors, hospital staff and surveillance staff so they are actively looking for symptoms and signs of the illness as of last week. But we will definitely be strengthening our surveillance because we realize now that there has been an outbreak in Martinique and Dominica to a certain extent. The first suspected case in January was not confirmed chikungunya.

“Even (working) with the Caribbean Health Public Agency and the Pan American Health Organization who are the leading agencies in the Caribbean, we don’t get all of their information.

“But, we are not naïve to say that we don’t have cases; we are just saying that we haven’t found any,” concluded the Head of Epidemiology.

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