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Jamaica's Zik-V Pandemic gives rise to Microcephaly, Guillain-Barré concerns

Featured Jamaica's Zik-V Pandemic gives rise to Microcephaly, Guillain-Barré concerns
With the Zika Virus explosion now overtaking Jamaica, public health specialists are concerned that not enough is being done to highlight the severity of the pandemic facing the country, and the potentially devastating effect of illnesses associated with the virus.

Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Winston de la Haye last week said the country had over 3,500 suspected cases of Zika of which 34 are already confirmed.

children with microcephaly require highly specialized care and globally, many families suffer great stigmatization and psychological stress as they care for children with microcephaly.

He said the Health Ministry was bracing itself to deal with more people contracting the mosquito-borne illness with close to two million Jamaicans expected to contract the Zika virus.

Only recently Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller wrote  to Prime Minister Andrew Holness expressing her deep concern about the public health crisis facing the country and especially, the impact on pregnant women and their unborn babies.

She observed that Jamaica was about three months away from its traditional high birth period, and that it has been approximately nine months since the discovery of the first case of the Zika virus here.

“With 40,000 births on average per year, it would be gross negligence to ignore the potential explosion of microcephaly cases in the upcoming high birth season and not put in place measures to address the medical and social needs of these pregnant women and their new-borns,” Mrs. Simpson Miller said.

She stressed that children with microcephaly required highly specialized care and that globally, many families suffered great stigmatization and psychological stress as they care for children with microcephaly. “Our local families will need counselling and support,” she noted.

Dayton Campbell
Opposition Member of Parliament Dr Dayton Campbell

Opposition Member of Parliament Dr Dayton Campbell is pushing for the Government to make  abortion services available to pregnant women who are confirmed to be carrying a baby with microcephaly.

Dr. Campbell says women should be given the option to abort babies likely to be born with microcephaly, although Jamaican laws criminalise abortion, except  in certain circumstances.

His call however, did not find favour with Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton who said he was opposed to the idea.   

An equally devastating and life threatening illness linked to the Zika virus, is the Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) which is beginning to cause concern within Jamaica’s health system, given the rise in the number of confirmed Zika cases.

An equally devastating and life threatening illness linked to the Zika virus, is the Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) which is beginning to cause concern within Jamaica’s health system, given the rise in the number of confirmed Zika cases.

GBS is a potentially life-threatening syndrome in which a person’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system, leaving some patients unable to move and dependent on life support.

In areas of the world where cases of the Zika virus are prevalent, news of Guillain-Barre-like symptoms have been reported.

Some infectious disease specialists suggest that it is not a stretch to consider a link between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barré syndrome. So far there seems to be some case evidence.

Dr. Dayton Campbell recently chided Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton in Parliament for failing to disclose the number of suspected Guillain-Barré cases detected in Jamaica.

Dr. Campbell warned that Guillain Barré should not be taken lightly as it could be fatal, noting that it’s a horrific disease, one that attacks the nervous system and causes muscular weakness in the chest and limbs, and can eventually affect both breathing and cardiac functions.

A senior medical specialist in Kingston dealing with Guillain Barré patients has indicated that she had seen close to 50 patients with the illness in the past few weeks, ten of whom have since died.

The other troubling fact relates to the cost of the treatment regime for the illness, which runs close to $85,000 per bottle, with an average 40 bottles per patient.

This medication is not readily available at pharmacies because of the expense in stocking it.

Patients suffering from acute forms of this illness, have to be admitted to the already severely limited bed space at Intensive Care Units in hospitals such as Cornwall Regional in Montego Bay the Kingston Public Hospital and the University Hospital of the West Indies.

Treatment is compounded by the fact that there is severe competition for bed space with the many gunshot and motor vehicle collision victims recovering from surgery, as well as a shortage of ICU nurses, many of whom have been recruited by hospitals abroad.  

Winston De La Haye
Acting Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health Dr. Winston De La Haye

The Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health says that in terms of neurological complications, the number of notified cases as it relates to the Guillain-Barré is 57. However, not all the suspected cases are related to the Zika virus.

"When we sit and sift through for those who meet the criteria, it's nine in total; of which only one has been Zik V-positive and three negative (while) we still have results pending for five persons," Dr. De La Haye explained.

While there is no immediate treatment for confirmed GBS, there is Guillain-Barre syndrome treatment. These treatments can lessen the severity of the symptoms and help people recover a lot quicker.

Plasma exchange is one treatment. During plasma exchange, the liquid portion of your blood is removed and separated from blood cells. The blood cells are put back into your body and make more plasma to replace what has been removed. This gets rid of certain antibodies that might contribute to the immune system attacking the nerves.

Immunoglobulin therapy is another form of GBS treatment. Immunoglobulin that consists of healthy antibodies from blood donors is given through veins. High doses can block the damaging antibodies that might contribute to Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Guillaine-Barre syndrome treatment can also include medications to relieve pain, as well as prevent blood clots that develop while the patient is immobile. Some physical therapy may take place during recovery to help muscles remain flexible and help the patient regain strength.

Guillian-Barre syndrome symptoms can vary from person to person, but normally the first sign of GBS is a tingling feeling in the toes, feet, and/or legs. This tingling sensation can spread upward to the arms and fingers. The symptoms tend to progress quickly. There are cases where the condition can go from mild to serious in a matter of a few hours. Below is a list of some of the typical Guillain-Barre symptoms.

  • Muscle weakness in legs
  • Difficulty walking
  • Low back pain
  • Difficulty moving eyes or face
  • Difficulty talking, chewing, or swallowing
  • Fast heart rate
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Paralysis
  • When symptoms become severe, it is important to seek medical attention

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