Guyana’s Reference Lab to conduct Zika testing – Norton

…will be less dependent on CARPHA in 2017

he Public Health Ministry is seeking to move away from its heavy dependence on the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in the new year, as there has been some significant improvement in the country’s local Reference Laboratory.

At his year-end press conference, Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton said the improvements have put the lab in a position where it was now able to carry out testing for the Zika Virus, which commenced some two weeks ago.

“We had the offer of sending two persons to be trained in CARPHA in Trinidad. They were sent to train and having the equipment in Guyana, we had to calibrate those equipment and we waited on the experts to come down and have those equipment calibrated. Then we went into some difficulties of getting the reagents. Finally, were able to have the equipment calibrated and acquire the reagents and about two weeks we have been able to begin testing for Zika,” Norton told journalists in the Ministry’s boardroom on Friday.

The Laboratory, prior to this, did not have the capacity to carry out testing for Zika and other mosquito-related viruses. The samples were sent to CARPHA, after which Guyana had to wait over a week to receive the results.

Two medical technologists from the Laboratory were sent to Trinidad to be trained to test for three vector-borne diseases – Zika, Chikungunya and dengue. Shameza Ally Sonaram and Johanna Vaughn had completed training at the Agency and were expected to work along with a number of other specialist staff identified by the Ministry to perform specific duties in helping them complete these tests.

“We have had persons trained and the ability of the National Reference Lab has been improved. We hope to continue improving,” Norton told reporters.

For this year, the Minister said there have been some 842 cases of dengue, 35 lab confirmed cases of Zika and 135 cases of Chikungunya.

He said Chikungunya is not much of a threat as it used to be.

“It is now pedalling out on its own because it is a viral infection. Whenever it shows up, we know it is there because of the severity of the symptoms it presents.”

The Zika Virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, known to be aggressive daytime biters, but also bite at nights. Symptoms of the Virus include; fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, rash and sometimes swelling of the limbs. In rare cases, persons may experience vomiting, abdominal pains and diarrhoea.

The Virus can be passed on from a pregnant woman to her foetus, possibly resulting in certain brain defects. The Virus has been linked specifically to a brain deformity, called microcephaly, which results in abnormal smallness of the infant’s head. This disorder results in incomplete brain development.

Thus, the Ministry has advocated that persons avoid getting pregnant during this time. And if they do, they do it at their own risk. The Ministry had advised that all pregnant women attend each antenatal clinic dates and use mosquito nets.

There are as yet no vaccines for the Virus; however, the symptoms are treated symptomatically.

Zika was first spotted in Berbice when a woman, 27, tested positive in January,2016. The Virus has since spread to other regions, predominantly Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica).

The creation of the new Caribbean Public Health Agency was approved by the Caricom Heads of Government in March 2010. CARPHA replaced and built on the work of the Caribbean Community’s five Regional Health Institutions (RHIs), following a phased transition period in December 2010. The RHIs are: Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC); the Caribbean Environmental Health Institute (CEHI); the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI); the Caribbean Health Research Centre (CHRC) and the Caribbean Research and Drug Treatment Laboratory (CRDTL).