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Minister of Health, Hon. Horace Dalley, has said that the outbreak of malaria in communities in Kingston was being treated as an emergency health situation and not an epidemic.
An epidemic describes an infectious disease that develops and spreads rapidly to many people over a given period. While an outbreak involves smaller numbers of people or is more sharply defined in terms of the area of occurrence, an epidemic could involve an entire state or region.
“We have not declared the situation an epidemic. Jamaica is still regarded as being non-endemic at this point in time. There are epidemiological and environmental measures that we must take in order to ensure that malaria is not re-introduced as an endemic disease,” Mr. Dalley said in the House of Representatives yesterday (Dec. 5).
Meanwhile, he informed that the Health Ministry had extended the surveillance space from Bull Bay in St. Andrew to Free Town in Clarendon in the attempt to identify additional infections. “For example, parishes like Clarendon where the anopheles mosquito is known to exist, that area has been targeted for special and rapid attention,” he said. The malaria infection is transmitted by the female anopheles mosquito.
So far, 21 persons have been confirmed with malaria, while about 100 persons have turned up with feverish symptoms and are now being investigated in order to rule out malaria infection.
“The confirmed cases are being treated in hospitals and some patients have completed their treatment and have already been sent home. To date, there have been no reported deaths caused by malaria,” Mr. Dalley stated.
The large majority of cases, he said, have been confined to Delacree Park, Denham Town, Tivoli Gardens and Trench Town in Kingston.
Of the 21 reported infections, 16 cases are females and five are males, ranging from five years to 72 years. A total of four children are among the confirmed cases.
“For those with known date of onset, this ranges from September 27 to November 30, which means that there may be others incubating the disease that has not yet come to light,” Mr. Dalley pointed out.
One of the cases was that of a Jamaican female, who has lived in North America for the last 12 years and visited Jamaica during the period in question and made visits to most of the areas in which the malaria parasite has emerged.
“She is being treated in the United States.we have obtained from her a history of the places she visited while in Jamaica and all fits with the geographic pattern on the local cases,” he informed.
Except for a few imported cases each year, Jamaica has largely been Malaria free for the last 41 years. “An influx is seen when there is an influx of persons from malaria endemic countries. The Jamaican population is susceptible to the disease, especially since there has been no significant exposure over a long period of time and therefore no natural resistance or tolerance has developed to it over time,” Mr. Dalley said.
According to the Health Minister, the malaria parasite has the potential to be highly morbid and potentially devastating, and informed that countries that have been declared malaria free, have had difficulty in re-establishing this status after a re-introduction of the disease.
Explaining how malaria is transmitted, Minister Dalley said “the anopheles mosquito breeds in gullies, drains, river beds and large bodies or fresh water. When the female mosquito bites an infected person, it takes in the parasite from the blood and becomes infective. The parasites are further developed in the body of the mosquito and then later transmitted to the other person bitten by the same mosquito.”
Clinical symptoms usually appear after an incubation period of seven to 14 days after the infective bite of this mosquito.
Symptoms of malaria include fever, chills, sweating, flu-like symptoms and nausea, which may progress to more serious complications such as brain infection and may lead to death.
As for treatment, suspected cases are screened via laboratory tests and treated with anti-protozoan agents. Mr. Dalley informed that preventative treatments were available free of cost through the Ministry of Health.
Mr. Dalley issued a word of caution to local fisherfolk, who plied close to South American countries in which malaria was endemic. “This poses a high risk for malaria transmission to Jamaicans, who may return home infected,” he pointed out.