‘Tis The Season! (For Viral Illnesses)


We are in the middle of several outbreaks in Jamaica. Dengue, Gastroenteritis and the Flu. It almost feels like one thing keeps happening after the other and now we have all three viral illnesses plaguing our island. The outbreak is so bad that our public health centres and hospitals are overloaded and there is a need for extensions of opening hours and waiving of fees at the University of the West Indies Hospital so that Bustamante Hospital for Children can share some of the load.

Every day that I am in the Health Centre I see children (and sometimes adults) who have some form of viral illness. A conversation with a fellow colleague brought up the need for health literacy around this outbreak. Health literacy is defined by Health.gov as:

the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions

With improved health literacy more persons would be able to treat some degrees of viral illnesses at home and decrease the load put on public health care. When it comes to children, it can be very scary to know they have a fever and diarrhoea (for example), so they spend hours in a health centre waiting to be seen only to be sent home on medication they can buy over the counter.

We have to pay more attention to health literacy, there are several avenues of communication out there that can be utilised. Right now, the health facilities are bursting at their seams, resources are being used up and health practitioners are over worked. Until we open the lines of communication with the general public, persons will continue coming for symptoms that can be managed at home.

The above viral illnesses are self limiting, that means they will go away on their own and you simply have to ride it out. All three of the current outbreaks basically present the same way: fever, headache, joint pains, muscle pain, loss of appetite, diarrhoea or vomiting. Which means we basically treat them the same way. Most patients will do fine with staying at home and taking paracetamol and keeping hydrated. If symptoms are severe (very high temperatures, continuous vomiting and diarrhoea that prevents adequate oral intake for hydration or any signs of bleeding or bruising), or symptoms get worse despite at home treatment, immediate medical attention is required.

Some persons are more at risk for complications than others and should have a low threshold for when to seek medical care. These include the extremes of age and those with a weakened immune system (the soldiers of your body) as with diseases such as diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, sickle cell and so on.

Go straight to the hospital if:

1. You have any warning signs for dengue haemorrhagic fever, which is a very severe form of dengue, these are:

  • vomiting 3x in 1 hour or greater than 6x in 4 hours
  • persistent belly pain
  • signs of bleeding such as:
    • black tarry stool
    • “coffee grounds” in vomit
    • bleeding from gums
    • bruises on the body
    • abnormally heavy periods
    • nosebleeds

2. Vomit or diarrhoea has blood

3.  Signs of (or potential for) severe dehydration

  • Vomiting or diarrhoea so much that you can’t keep up with hydration
  • Passing less or no urine
  • sunken eyes
  • feeling very sleepy, irritable or confused


Many times, all you need to do is treat with paracetamol ,which is found over the counter, rest and rehydrate with oral rehydration fluids, pedialyte, or any other rehydration solution. Speak with your pharmacist who is there to help guide you on what over the counter medications you can take.


During this season, try your best to stay protected by:

  1. getting the flu vaccine
  2. getting rid of mosquito breeding sites
  3. wearing protective clothing and using repellants and nets
  4. practicing proper hygiene  (washing your hands before meals, after cleaning or using the bathroom.)


More needs to be done in this outbreak to educate the population about these viral illnesses. Thank you to my close friend who is the reason behind today’s blog.

Stay healthy!

Samantha C. Johnson

Image by silviarita on Pixabay


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