The Health Services Authority and Department of Public Health is embroiled in controversy over claims about whether there were cases of dengue fever on Grand Cayman.
Last Tuesday, Acting Director of Public Health, Dr. Anna Matthews, told the Caymanian Compass there were no cases of dengue fever being treated at the hospital, but said there had been one suspected case that was later ruled out.
The following day, the HSA issued a dengue fever alert stating that there were ‘currently no known active cases in the Cayman Islands.’
But on Thursday night, Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush went on Radio Cayman, questioning why the Public Health Department was claiming there were no cases of dengue fever on the island, when they had confirmed to him that they were treating cases of the dangerous disease.
‘It was very tongue-in-cheek to say the least, if not disingenuous, to say there are currently no known active cases in the Cayman Islands. That simply cannot be true,’ said Mr. Bush.
Mr. Bush’s statement forced the HSA to issue another press release Friday morning admitting that it had ‘become aware’ of one confirmed and two suspected cases of dengue fever in people that had recently returned from countries with dengue fever.
On Friday, Director of Public Health, Dr. Kiran Kumar – who was at a conference in Canada last week – said the Department of Public Health knew on Monday, 15 October of the one confirmed and two suspected cases, and had immediately passed that information on to the Mosquito Research and Control Unit and other governmental agencies.
The patient with a confirmed case of dengue fever recently travelled to Nicaragua, Mr. Kumar said, while the two patients with suspected cases had recently visited Jamaica. Like many other Caribbean and Central American countries, Jamaica and Nicaragua are experiencing one of their worst dengue fever outbreaks in years.
Two of the affected patients remain on island, while one, who was visiting Cayman, has returned to Jamaica.
Speaking from Canada, Mr. Kumar – who has a track record of openness with the media about public health issues – said he was not sure if there had been a communication mix-up.
‘When I heard about the press release saying there were no known cases in Cayman, as soon as I heard, at 1am (Friday morning), I woke up and wrote the press release to correct that.
‘We are not here to hide anything. There might have been an error made and yes I take responsibility if somebody in my department made that error, but I don’t think it was intentional.’
On Friday, Mr. Bush questioned whether the public had been put in danger by what he described as an HSA cover-up.
‘The [Aedes aegypti mosquito] is here and [the infected patients] could have passed this on and no public alert went out.
‘The public should have been alerted to it earlier so they could take necessary precautions,’ he said.
Mr. Bush claimed the Public Health Department had told him it first became aware of a suspected case of dengue fever 4 October.
‘Yesterday was the 18th. That gave them two weeks past when the Public Health Department first were notified about it.’
Mr. Kumar said it could take between seven and 10 days for lab analysis in Miami to confirmed suspected dengue cases.
But Mr. Bush said he suspected a whitewash.
‘I think they have lied to the media and they have lied to the public,’ he said.
On Friday the MRCU confirmed it had stepped up efforts to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
MRCU Director Bill Petrie said, ‘Immediately upon receiving the news from Public Health we mobilised crews to treat the areas near the homes of the patients and to investigate the surrounding neighborhoods for potential breeding sites of the mosquito.’ The main areas of operation include West Bay and South Sound.’
MRCU crews are concentrating their efforts in the neighborhoods of the patient’s homes and in areas of the island where Aedes aegypti numbers are known to be high. Crews are applying granules and spraying insecticide near residences in order to reduce numbers of the mosquito as well as collecting samples for identification and research.
Mr. Petrie said the Cayman Islands is at a heightened risk of dengue fever due to high densities of the Aedes aegypti mosquito on some parts of Grand Cayman and are keenly aware of the risk posed by residents and visitors returning from areas where there are outbreaks of dengue fever.
The news of dengue fever cases being treated in Cayman comes as parts of the Caribbean and Latin America are reporting some of the worst outbreaks of dengue fever in decades.
So far this year, 643, 123 cases of dengue fever have been recorded throughout the Caribbean and Latin America and 186 people have died as a result.
Although dengue fever is not endemic to Cayman, Hurricane Ivan in 2004 spawned a 1,300 per cent increase in the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, a potential dengue fever vector. Aedes aegypti breeds predominantly around houses and is a day-biting mosquito.
Mr. Petrie said the public has a vital role to play controlling Aedes aegypti by reducing standing water in their yards where the mosquitoes breed and larvae develop, by turning over buckets, draining plant pots and unblocking guttering.
Dengue fever symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, with severe headache, muscle and joint pains, usually four to seven days after the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. Many patients may also develop nausea, vomiting and bright red rashes on chest, arms, legs, and face.
However, in milder cases, symptoms can be misdiagnosed as the common flu, said Dr. Kumar in the press release.
Dengue fever cannot be transmitted from person to person, but Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes can transmit the disease to health people after biting someone infected with the disease.
There is no vaccine or treatment for dengue fever.