No outbreak, says CMO despite increase in dengue cases

The Aedes Aegypti mosquito that transmits the Zika virus (Photo courtesy flickr.com)

“We’ve started seeing an increased number of dengue cases since late last year,” confirmed Chief Medical Officer, Dr Rhonda Sealy-Thomas during an interview with OBSERVER media yesterday.

“We did get confirmation early up in the year that dengue type-3 was circulating and, yes, we had an outbreak at the beginning of the year, and it has just continued,” the CMO said. Dengue fever is the mosquito-borne tropical disease caused by the dengue virus and spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.

“We have the Aedes Aegypti mosquito [which] is ever-present in Antigua,” said Dr. Sealy-Thomas, “and, although we do try to control it, we are challenged with storage of water in persons’ homes, and although we do inspections and try to educate householders on how they can assist in controlling mosquito breeding sites… it’s a challenge.”

The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) confirmed there was an outbreak of dengue in the Caribbean region late last year. Despite this confirmation, Dr Sealy-Thomas said that the increase in the local dengue count does not meet the threshold necessary to be considered an outright outbreak of dengue fever in Antigua and Barbuda. The CMO sought, however, to encourage the public to seek medical attention if they or their children present with severe fever, vomiting or rashes on the skin, which are all symptoms of the disease.

“We’ve continued to see cases of dengue since the beginning of the year. We want to continue working with the public in controlling dengue fever because it can be very serious. It presents as a rash, muscle pain, pain behind the eyes. What’s critical is that sometimes persons get severe dengue which can cause bleeding and, unfortunately in some cases, really severe cases it can cause death,” advised Dr Sealy-Thomas.

“Dengue is a severe disease. It is a disease that we need to take note of and if you think you have dengue, go to a health care provider.”

Despite the increase, the chief health official is assuring the public that the ministry is leading a robust public health campaign to encourage residents to take the necessary precautions to eliminate mosquito-breeding sites. She further noted that there is still a major challenge in some homes as people are still not taking heed of the health department advisories. “We want to continue working with the public in controlling dengue fever,” she added.

Meanwhile, the CMO also encouraged parents to seek medical attention once their child or children show signs of having the hand, foot, and mouth disease. She further noted that it is, in fact, very common to see an increase in these cases immediately after the summer vacation. Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a mild, contagious viral infection common in young children and is characterised by sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet. It is most commonly caused by a coxsackievirus.

Some preschools and daycare facilities on the island have been forced to close this week due to the presence of the contagious disease.