JIS News

The government of Jamaica is strengthening its surveillance systems as part of the country’s response to the outbreak of the deadly Avian Flu (Bird Flu) virus in South East Asia, which experts fear may become a global pandemic.The country’s response will be led by the Ministry of Health, and Minister John Junor has informed that already, the first draft of a plan of action has been developed, which utilizes existing systems in the Ministry. In addition, meetings have been held with the Agriculture Ministry and non-governmental stakeholders in the bird industry.
Mr. Junor, who was speaking in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (Oct.11), said that port security would also be tightened to prevent the illegal importation of birds, especially from South America.
He further indicated that the Ministry would be closely monitoring all cases of fever and rashes in hospitals and setting up sentinel sites in areas where reports of “unusual activities” were sent to the Ministry, in addition to the implementation of a public education programme.
The Health Minister told the House, that quick identification of and response to the virus was imperative, and the island’s first response would be through the viral laboratory at the University of the West Indies, which serves as the main laboratory outside of the Caribbean Centre for Epidemiology (CAREC).
Furthermore, he said linkages have been established with the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta. “We have to be able to conduct surveillance of antiviral susceptibility and testing; we would have to get international help,” he stated.
Minister Junor said that should the island be affected, the Ministry would move quickly to delay the spread at source, which would involve quarantining areas where there were incidents.
He also pointed out that in light of the fact that a vaccine has not yet been developed for the strain, a system for the mass delivery of anti-viral drugs would have to be developed.
Mr. Junor said the recent reports of human-to-human transmission of the virus, which is virulent and spreads easily in its host population, which is largely the bird grouping, “is a clear sign that there is a major public health risk possibility.”
The Bird Flu virus was first discovered in humans in Hong Kong in 1997. Almost all human cases are thought to be contracted from birds. Infected birds spread the virus through saliva, faeces, and nasal secretions. So far, only humans with direct contact with sick birds have caught the disease, but scientists are worried that flu could link with regular human influenza, mutate, and become a deadly new virus and trigger a pandemic.
Symptoms of the disease in birds are loss of appetite, ruffled feathers, fever, weakness, diarrhoea, excessive thirst and swelling, while warning signs in humans include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, eye infections, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress and viral pneumonia.
The World Health Organization has said this year’s strain of the Bird Flu is resistant to cheap anti-viral drugs. WHO also recommends the quarantining of sick people.

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