Testing to be done for presence of potentially serious respiratory virus in Jamaica

The National Public Health Laboratory has commenced preparing samples to be sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for PCR testing to detect the presence of the potentially serious Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) within the population.

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton said that had become necessary because of the emergent issue of increasing respiratory illnesses that have led to overcrowding at the Bustamante Hospital for Children and the Spanish Town Hospital.

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Christopher Tufton

RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild flu-like symptoms, and most people recover within a week. However, it may cause serious illness, especially in young children and the elderly, who may be affected by bronchiolitis (inflammation of the airways in the lungs) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs). It may also worsen chronic lung diseases, such as asthma.

The Epidemiological Surveillance System has indicated that Jamaica is in the influenza season, evidenced by the fact that Severe Acute Respiratory Illnesses (SARI) have passed the seasonal threshold.

Dr. Tufton said during the four weeks from September 25 to October 22, the number of SARI admissions rose from four to 19. This represents a more than 400 per cent increase in the reported admissions at sentinel sites.

“The increased SARI admissions are mainly among children and, in particular, children younger than six months old and those two to four years old. Over the last two weeks, admissions were significantly greater than usually observed,” he said.

“Whereas the Bustamante Hospital for Children would usually admit four SARI cases per week at this time of year, in the last few weeks, they admitted approximately 13 children for SARI in each week. This has resulted in an increasing number of cases of SARI admissions to the Bustamante Hospital for Children.”

The Minister informed that the current report from the Bustamante Hospital is that medical wards are above capacity at 111 per cent. Additionally, there are at least an average of six patients in the Accident and Emergency Department awaiting admission nightly.

“This has worsened our current staffing challenges and has significantly impacted the work environment within the facility. Of note, is that Spanish Town Hospital is also seeing a significant increase in admissions and overcrowding,” he stated.

The occupancy of the paediatric wards has been persistently greater than 100 per cent. Admissions increased by 53 per cent, with 98 patients in August and 150 in September. Over the last four weeks, there has been a significant increase in the daily paediatric respiratory/asthmatic cases at the hospital.

Dr. Tufton said the Health Ministry has taken note of the international trends in respiratory illnesses, especially among children.

He noted that there has been an increase in cases of respiratory illnesses in the Region of the Americas. A substantial increase in cases has been noted in the United States and Canada, including of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

Dr. Tufton told the House of Representatives that the Ministry’s technical team has commenced work to assess whether the current trends in Jamaica have any correlation with the international experience outlined.

“Our Chief Medical Officer has contacted the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to procure the necessary reagents to conduct testing for the presence of RSV within our national system,” he told the House of Representatives.

“The Ministry, through our capacity strengthening during COVID-19, is fully equipped with the necessary equipment and technical staff to conduct the PCR testing, once the reagents land in the island. We are advised by PAHO that these reagents should become available to us within seven to 10 days.”

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