Jamaican epidemic sparks dengue fever concerns

Dengue fever is not currently a problem in the Cayman Islands. And local health officials want to keep it that way.

Spurred in part by a recent epidemic level outbreak in Jamaica, the Ministry of Health is warning Cayman residents to be on guard for signs of the disease and to make extra efforts in eliminating mosquito breeding areas.

There were 123 suspected, presumed or confirmed cases of dengue fever in Jamaica in December. Anything above 96 cases for a month is considered an epidemic.

One young boy reportedly died from the disease during the month. Such fatalities are rare, but not unheard of. Among Jamaica’s 830 reported cases in 2018, there were seven suspected deaths from the disease and two confirmed fatalities.

Cayman had two imported cases of dengue fever reported during 2018. There were no reports of the disease being transmitted locally. But with the frequency of travel between Cayman and other regions in the Caribbean where the disease is more prominent, residents need to be cautious, said Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, acting chief medical officer for the Ministry of Health.

“At this moment, we have not experienced any new cases,” Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said. “But there’s definitely an outbreak in the region. We need to be proactive.”

Officials, he said, regularly monitor the island and test for the presence of the disease.

Dengue is a viral illness borne by female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Symptoms of the disease include the acute onset of high fever and at least two of the following: Severe frontal headache; joint pain; pain behind the eyes; muscle and or bone pain; a rash may be visible two to five days after the onset of fever; nausea or vomiting. Signs of bleeding, such as pinpoint red or purple spots on the skin, nosebleed, bleeding gums, blood in urine or stool, or vaginal bleeding, are seen in a severe form of dengue fever known as dengue hemorrhagic fever, severe dengue or dengue shock syndrome.

Dr. Williams-Rodriguez noted that there are four serotypes of the dengue virus. Those who are infected by serotypes 1 and 2, the most common, develop an immunity after fighting off the disease. However, if they encounter serotype 3 (22 cases of that type were reported in Jamaica in 2018) they are at greater risk from the disease.

Health officials said residents and visitors experiencing symptoms of dengue after traveling to a country with established transmission of dengue should immediately see a doctor and report their travel history.

Those traveling to such countries should also take precautions against mosquitoes such as wearing long sleeves, long pants and mosquito repellent containing at least 50 percent DEET.

Officials also urge people to eliminate potential mosquito breeding grounds by turning over sources of standing water, such as old car tires or empty plant pots or containers, around their homes and other buildings.

Jamaican Health Minister Christopher Tufton emphasized that while that 2018 figure for reported cases, 830, was higher than reported cases in 2017, the numbers for 2016 were substantially higher, with 2,297 cases reported.