KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica's health minister said Sunday that the government is doing all it can to combat a newly arrived mosquito-borne virus that is increasingly disrupting life and cutting productivity on the Caribbean island.
In a national address carried on television and radio, Fenton Ferguson said the chikungunya virus is spreading across Jamaica and "everyone is susceptible."
"We are aware of the impact this is having on productivity and attendance at school and work and ask employers to be compassionate and assist their staff through this difficult period," Ferguson said.
It's a rarely fatal but typically very painful viral illness that has advanced rapidly through the Caribbean and parts of Latin America after local transmission started in the tiny French dependency of St. Martin late last year, likely introduced by an infected air traveler. Apparently hardest hit has been the Dominican Republic, with half the cases reported in the Americas.
In recent days, the mosquito-borne virus with no cure or vaccine has been increasingly sickening people in Jamaica, perhaps most severely in the southeastern parish of St. Thomas.
"Schools, business, churches, farms and entire communities in St. Thomas continue to report ever mounting cases of persons ill with chikungunya, some communities with over half the population affected," said opposition official Delano Seiveright before the health minister's speech.
Confirmed cases in Jamaica are few so far, but there are many signs that the real number of sickened people is far higher than the official tally. Laboratories have only been able to confirm a small portion of people who fall ill because many patients don't bother seeking care so their cases go unrecorded. Some private doctors are also not reporting patients to the government, according to the health ministry.
Some Jamaicans are blasting the government for what they believe is a sluggish response to a public health threat they knew was on the way. Fenton asserts the government was prepared and is doing all it can to swat down the virus but the "expectation is for chikungunya cases to spike and then trend down" as more people become immune. People develop immunity after getting infected.
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