Jamaica Health Tips Online - Protecting the Environment, Protecting your Health

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Jamaica Health Tips Blog

Ebola virus in Jamaica; what are public health officials doing?

 With the recent chaos on the media about the deadly Ebola virus, many Jamaicans seemingly are concerned with the lack of information and surveillance being conducted by the public health officials in our island. For this reason the Jamaica Health Tips Online team has seen the need to provide information to our fellow Jamaicans and the world that will help you better understand this disease.

 Ebola as outlined on the CDC website is a rare and deadly disease, it is known to affect humans and non-human primates for example; Monkey, Gorillas and Chimpanzees. There are presently five identified strains of the Ebola virus; Zaire, Sudan, Cote d’lvoire, Bundibugyo and the Reston (in non-human primates but not in humans).

 The first case of Ebola occurs in Southern Sudan in 1976 in a cotton factory. As reported by Dr Don Francis in a presentation at the University of Berkeley, California, he believes that the cotton was contaminated by urine of fruit bats in the area. As of August 8, 2014 it has been reported by several sources that there are over 3000 confirm cases with over 1000 deaths in the West Africa area.

Transmission Mode

  •  Human to human varies from; direct contact through broken skin  for example saliva, urine, vomit, blood and semen of an infected person) or through unprotected mucous membranes such as; eyes nose or mouth. Objects (like needles or syringe) used by infected person.
  • Butchering of animals infected with the Ebola virus.

The primary host is believed to be the fruit bats which infect other animals and by extension humans through butchering and the consumption of animals for food (bush meat).

Persons at high risk

  •  Health care providers e.g. nurses and doctors.
  •  Butchers
  •  Family and friends who are caring for infected persons.
  •   Funeral home workers.

Signs and Symptoms
  Fever, headache, chest pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, dry painful throat, rash, bleeding from the ear,eyes, nose and mouth, malanea (black tarry faeces) and desquamation (skin peeling). The symptoms may appear within 2-21 days after exposure, but on average 8-10 days.  

Prevention and Control 
  Practice careful hygiene, avoid funeral or burial rituals that require handling of infected bodies, avoid contacts with bats, and infected animals and humans, education of the public and proper training of health care providers, isolation of infected persons, constant re-hydration of patient(s) maintenance of oxygen and blood pressure status in patient(s) and an active quarantine and surveillance system.

 There is no known vaccine or medicine to treat the Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever. However, several patients have recovered from their illness by just treating any opportunistic illness and maintaining patient(s) electrolytes, oxygen and blood pressure level. 

Do you think Jamaican public health officials are prepared for the Ebola virus?
Source: CDC website and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCM3HWsIbDE  The 2014 Ebola Outbreak: Update on an Unprecedented Public Health Event .

Fight Against HIV AIDS

Most Jamaicans don’t know that a person doesn't actually "get" AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). People sometimes get infected with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), and later they might develop AIDS. You can get infected with HIV from anyone who's infected, even if they don't look very sick and even if they haven't been tested and confirmed HIV-positive The semen, blood, vaginal fluid, and breast milk of people infected with HIV has enough of the virus in it to infect others. Most times the HIV virus is transmitted by:
·        Having sexual intercourse with someone who is infected;
·        Being born infected because the mother is infected, or drinking the breast milk of a woman who is infected.
·        Sharing a needle with someone who's infected;
Things Jamaican’s should keep in mind
Your risk of getting HIV or passing it to someone else depends on many factors. Do you know what they are? Here are a few health tips.
1.      Use a condom
2.      Abstaining from sex
3.      Talking about HIV with your partner
4.      Getting tested
It’s simple as ABC (A: Abstain B: Be faithful C: Use A Condom

Chikungunya (Chik)

Chikungunya is a viral disease that causes fever and severe joint pains. It is spread to human by bite of an infected mosquito. The aedes aegypti mosquitoes spread or pass on this virus. This type of mosquito also spreads the dengue virus.
The most common symptoms are fever and severe joint pains, often in the hands, wrist and ankles. Prolong effects includes Arthritis and disabling joints pains. In some cases, joints pains can last for several months and even years. Other symptoms include headache, backache, muscles pain, nausea, fatigue and rash.

There are no medicines to specifically treat chikungunya or vaccine; however pain killers can be taken to reduce the symptoms. It is paramount to note that only paracetamol pain killersshould be taken. Other pain killers such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen and other anti-flammmatory drugs are not recommended as they may increase risk of bleeding.

Prevent Mosquito Bites
Mosquitoes which spread Chikunyunga bites during the daytime so;
  •  Wear light coloured clothing and cover your body as much as possible.
  •  Use mosquito repellents containing DEET on exposed skin. 
  •  Use mosquito coils and electric vaporization maths both in the day and night.
  •  Use mosquito nets · 
  •  Screen (mesh) your windows and doors.

Prevent Mosquito Breeding
The aedes mosquito breeds and lives in standing water in and around the home hence do your part to prevent them from breeding.

  •  Cover all open containers such as your drums, tanks, barrels, buckets.
  •  Get rid of all old tyres, tins bottles, plastic containers, coconut shells and anything in which rain water settles.
  •  Cover trash, punch holes in tins before placing them in garbage.
  •  Keep house plants in damp soil and avoid over watering plants.
  •  Empty and wash pets water containers as twice weekly.
  •  Debush over grown vegetation on your premises as frequently as possible.

N:B see your doctor immediately if you think you or a family member might have chikungunya 
Source: MOH brochure
Do you have measures in place to protect yourself and your family from Chikungunya? 

Juice from concentrate

As defined in the Collins English Dictionary, 1819 a fruit juice is a beverage made from liquid squeezed from a fruit or fruits. With that said, can we legally call juice from concentrate 100% fruit juice? This seems to be the new way of advertising fruit juices blended with other ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners, additives and coloring.

 Many may argue that fruit juice made from concentrate is juice adding back the water that was removed in the evaporation process. Yes, but evaporation which is heating the juice to high temperature will destroy certain nutrients and enzymes in the natural fruit. In addition, juice from concentrate would also have most of its water removed through filtration and extraction. Extraction involves adding some chemicals to get a more condensed product. 

According to the Dictionary of Food Science and Technology, Juice from concentrate is also pasteurized as part of the process to extend its shelf life. As a general rule, the more processing a food undergoes, the more potential there is for nutrient loss. On the contrary, according to the Complete Book of Food count, the differences are not great. One cup of 100% orange juice from concentrate, for example contains 100 milligram and 40 micro-gram of beta-carotene, compare to 125 milligram of vitamin c and 80 micro-gram of beta-carotene in fresh squeezed varieties. 

The writer will not dismiss the fact that 100% juice from concentrate with no sugar added is healthier than juice made from concentrate with sugar added, however it’s in my opinion that juice from concentrate should not be advertise as 100% natural fruit juice. As consumers we need to take charge in the market place, read labels since it is the only thing that will provide us with information needed to guide us in making a wise and informed choice.  Please share your views and knowledge on this topic.

Do you drink a lot of juices that are made from concentrate?

Things to look out for when buying fish

 Fish, when freshly caught, is relatively wholesome.  The quality of the fish starts to deteriorate as soon as it is taken  from the water.  The principal cause of fish condemnation is decay.  Factors influencing the rapid spoilage of fish are: 
  1. Microbial – several species of microbes are always present in the surface slime and intestinal tract of the healthy fish.  As long as the fish remains alive, these are held in check and the flesh of the healthy fish remains sterile.  However, as soon as the fish dies, these reproduce rapidly and attack all the constituents of the tissues.  Since these organisms live on the cold-blooded vertebrate at low ocean temperatures, they are able to resist ordinary refrigeration temperatures.  If microbial decomposition must be retarded, fish, upon being caught, should be immediately stored at temperatures below 0ºC.
  2. Physiological – due to the fight and consequent exertion when caught, glycogen in the muscles is depleted or nearly so.  There is therefore little glycogen to convert into lactic acid in slowing bacterial growth in muscles is limited.
  3. Chemical – besides bacteria, enzymes act upon certain constituents of the fish, breaking it down into simpler substances.  This is called self-digestion or autolysis. The growth and activities of certain bacteria on the surface of the fish produces undesirable chemical substances called trimethylamine which is responsible for the fishy odor of spoilt fish.  This chemical then diffuses into the flesh of the fish causing spoilage.
Characteristics of Good Wet Fish
  1. Clear, bright, slightly protruding eyes with black pupils.
  2. Gills are bright red in color, odorless and usually closed.
  3. Moderate amount of natural slime covering fish, skin shiny and color unfaded, scales are strongly adherent, creamy white or transparent slime.
  4. Flesh is firm to the touch, solid, opaque, elastic and strongly attached to backbone.
  5. Abdomen clean and free from offensive odor.  Belly walls are firm with no discoloration.
  6. Blood along the backbone in the visceral cavity is bright red.
  7. Pleasant odor (briny)
  8. Body stiff and tail rigid.
  9. The carcass will sink in water.
 Characteristics of Stale Wet Fish
  1. Dull, sunken grey eyes which will disappear in extremely rotten fish.
  2. Gills are of very pale pink or dark brown color, slimy and have foul odor.
  3. Natural slime is yellowish and has a bad odor, dull appearance, many missing scales as they are easily detached from the skin.
  4. Flesh is soft and limp, transparent and pits easily on pressure and can be easily loosened from backbone.
  5. Abdomen discolored with offensive odor, belly wall soft and discolored.
  6. Blood along backbone is dark to black in color, with foul odor.
  7. Strong rank odor, progressing into a putrid, rotten fish odor.
  8. Body limp and pliable.
  9. The carcass will float in water.
Care of Fresh Fish
     1. Minimum handling – the less handling fish receives, the longer it will remain wholesome and the less likelihood of it causing fish            poisoning.
     2. Fresh fish should be buried in ice that is relatively finely ground or shaven.
     3. It is poor practice to allow fish fillet, sliced fish or fish with flesh exposed to come in direct contact with water or ice as this will          spoil the flavour and appearance and result in a soggy unpalatable product.
     4. Refrigeration is necessary at all times to keep down bacterial action and autolysis.
 Smoked Fish (Herring)
  Good Fish
     1. Flesh should be firm, dry and free from stains
     2. Flesh should have fresh, clean, smoky odor
  Bad Fish
     1. Flesh is sweaty, soft and slimy.
     2. Flesh is moldy and has bad odor.

  Dried Saltfish 
 Good Fish
     1. Flesh should be firm, clear in colour, fairly dry on surface, neatly trimmed.
     2. Always stored in dry cool place.
     3. Free of insect pests and dirt.
 Bad Fish
  1. Flesh is discolored, (pink fungus growth).
  2. Wet and moist saltfish not properly stored.
  3. May be infested with Lasioderma or other pests.

 Pickled Fish  
  Good Fish 
      1. Fish should be covered with clean liquor.
      2.Odor should be pleasant, pickle odor. 
      3. Fish should be firm and free from bloodstained and broken pieces. 
 Bad Fish
  1. Fish only partially covered or covered with muddy liquor.
  2. Foul or rancid odor
  3. Fish is bloodstained, discolored and broken into pieces.

 Sound Oysters
 The outside should be clean and free from dirt, with shells tightly closed. 
  When a handful is rubbed together, they will sound like pebbles.   
  They will sink in water and has a pleasant odor.      
  If the pH of the liquor is tested, it will be between 6 and 7. ·      
  The liquor appears milky especially during the spawning season (spring).  
 Stale/Unsound Oysters    
 Shell not closed.    
 When shaken, does not have a pebble like sound.   
 Unpleasant odor, excessive dirt and slime.    
 PH of the liquor more acidic and has an opaque appearance.    
 has a black or dark ring in the inside of the shell ·     
 Floats in water.   

 Oysters removed from shell should be stored in sterile containers and if being kept for over 4 days, should be stored  at 30ºF or  below.
 Source: Marcia Reid (lecturer at University of Technology, Jamaica.  Lecture notes.)
  Are you buying safe fish? leave a comment below.

Eating Healthy Christmas 2013

Well it’s just 3 days away before Christmas and Jamaicans are preparing for wonderful large cooked meals. Most Jamaicans do not realize that the food they consume during Christmas is usually high in fat and calories, but taking a closer look has revealed that there can be some hidden health benefits too. 

Very few Jamaicans eat turkey as their main dish during Christmas, but some studies show that Turkey contains high levels of protein but without the large quantities of saturated fat found in some red meat, it also has lower cholesterol levels than pork, chicken or beef.

It has been said that some Jamaican vegetables like cabbage, may help reduce the risk of some cancers, as they contain high levels of antioxidants. And Christmas in Jamaica is not complete without dark chocolate, which is a good source of magnesium and contains a variety of bio-active compounds believed to lead to good cardiovascular health and prevent joint problems. 
However chocolate is a high-calorie food and should be eaten in small moderation. leave a comment below.

What healthy foods are you planning to eat this Christmas? 
leave a comment below.

Understanding Dengue Fever

Why are mosquitoes attracted to some people than other?

Dengue fever is an infection caused by a virus called Dengue virus. There are four different type of this virus, Dengue type 1, 2, 3 and 4.  A person can only be infected with each type once in their life. The virus is spread when a female Aedes mosquito bites an infected person and then bites other people.
The female mosquito bites only to obtain blood from its source to provide iron and other nutrients needed for the development and maturation of its eggs. The belief is true; mosquitoes do prefer to snack on some people than others. 

 There are three distinct reasons,
1· Carbon dioxide - producing more carbon dioxide and lactic acid will cause a mosquito to be more attracted to you.  So the reason we always hear a mosquito buzzing at our ear is because as we breathe out the carbon dioxide from our nostril, and they follow that track at the angel of the ear. With that said, a pregnant woman is more attracted to a mosquito since she will emit more CO2.
2· Body temperature – producing greater body heat will attract mosquitoes, especially if you have a chemical blood type marker. So persons with type O blood type are 24% more attractive to a mosquito.
3· Sweating – sweating excessively means that your body temperature is very high and this will attract a mosquito to you. Children are always victims since they are always busy playing and running about. Additional persons who sweat easily and very physical and active individuals.
When infected with a dengue virus you may develop Dengue Fever or Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever (severe form of Dengue which often causes death).  Here are some signs and symptoms,
1.      Sudden onset of high fever and severe headache.
2.      Pain behind the eye, muscle, bone or joint pain.
3.      Skin rash, vomiting or feeling to vomit.
N: B for Dengue Haemorragic Fever, in severe cases patients may go into a shock called Dengue Shock Syndrome. In additional they may experience fainting, difficulty breathing, bleeding from nose, mouth or gum, stomach pain and skin bruising.
To prevent mosquitoes from breeding is to prevent them from having access to water.
·        Keep all water holding or storage container closed
·        Brush your premises regularly, since mosquitoes can breed in water on the grass leaves.
·        Clean all drains and trenches to allow water to flow easily.
·        Pour cooking oil and other oil in areas where water settles.
·        Package, store and dispose of water properly. E.g. punch holes in tins.

In case you feel you have dengue visit your doctor immediately, rest and drink a lot of fluids. Use Paracetamol pain killers only; do not use pain killers such as Aspirin or medications that have Aspirin in them, since they may increase your risk of bleeding.

Do you have measures in place to protect yourself and your family from Dengue Fever? 

knowing when eggs are safe to eat.

Eggs are one of the most economical and nutritious food known to man. It is important to however, not to mismanage eggs during the time of production through to consumption.  This is because mismanagement may compromise the safety and the quality of the egg and consequently facilitates the growth of microorganisms which can have deleterious effect on the health of the consumer.  

Eggs have been classified by many including the Food and Drug administration as being a potentially hazardous food. This is because it has being implicated in numerous foodborne disease outbreaks such as Salmonellosis. (FDA, 2001) According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, (2011), it is estimated that the average yearly production of eggs in Jamaica is at 120,977,659. Consequently there are approximately 16,200 unmonitored small egg farms contributing to the yearly production of eggs in the island, (Williams, 2004). This is of major public health concern because some eggs which you consume could be contaminated with deadly microorganisms that may result in loss of life.

 Most commercially produced eggs reach supermarkets within a few days of leaving the egg farm. If the market and the buyer handle them properly, they will still be fresh when they reach the table.  As an egg ages, the egg white becomes thinner and the yolk becomes flatter.

Blood Spots
Blood spots also called meat spots, occasionally found on an egg yolk. Contrary to popular opinion, these tiny spots do not indicate a fertilized egg. Rather, they are caused by the rupture of a blood vessel on the yolk surface during formation of the egg or by a similar accident in the wall of the oviduct. Less than 1% of all eggs produced have blood spots. As an egg ages, the yolk takes up water from the albumen to dilute the blood spot so, in actuality, a blood spot indicates that the egg is fresh. Both chemically and nutritionally, these eggs are fit to eat. The spot can be removed with the tip of a knife, if you wish.
  Table 1 : Showing the quality of egg from very fresh (left) to stale (right). 
How are eggs handled safely?
Proper refrigeration, cooking, and handling should prevent most egg-safety problems. Persons can enjoy eggs and dishes containing eggs if these safe handling guidelines are followed:

  • Wash utensils, equipment, and work areas with hot, soapy water before and after contact with eggs
  • Don't keep eggs out of the refrigerator more than 2 hours.
  • Raw eggs and other ingredients, combined according to recipe directions, should be cooked immediately or             refrigerated and cooked within 24 hours.
  • Always cook eggs until both the white and yolk are firm.
  • Casseroles and other dishes containing eggs should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 °F. use a food thermometer to be sure.
  • Serve cooked eggs and dishes containing eggs immediately after cooking, or place in shallow containers for quick cooling and refrigerate at once for later use. Use within 3 to 4 days. 

Source : Marcia Reid (lecturer) @ University of Technology, Jamaica.

Did you know that some foods you eat are genetically modified?

Genetically Modified Foods

These are foods, in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. From prehistoric time plants and animals have been involved in selective breeding. Scientists first discovered that DNA can transfer between organisms in 1946. The first genetically modified plant was produced in 1983, using an antibiotic-resistant tobacco plant. 

In 1994, the transgenic Flavr Savr tomato was approved by the FDA for marketing in the US - the modification allowed the tomato to delay ripening after picking.  

Advantages Genetically Modified Foods

• Genetically modified food technology can develop crops with higher yield, with less fertilizer, less pesticides, and more nutrients.
• Decrease of maturation time of the plants, so they can be harvested sooner, stay riper longer and more often during the year. 
• Foods are more resistant and stay ripe for a longer period of time.
• Reduction in food-borne illnesses e.g.  Foods causing allergic reactions.
• Developments of new kinds of crops that can be grown at extreme climates.
• As more crops can be grown and at more places, this decreases global warming through the increase of oxygen in the environment and the decrease of carbon dioxide.
• Enhancement of the size of food.
• Less labor requirements. 
• Less factory additives needed.
• Scientific development of agriculture, health and related sciences due to the better understanding of the products. E.g. the development of new medicines.

Disadvantages Genetically Modified Foods

• Harm to other organisms. E.g. genes and their effect included in a crop may turn out to be poisonous to insects (monarch butterfly poisoned by Genetically Modified Foods corns).
• Scientists can choose which genes to manipulate, but they don't yet know where in the DNA to precisely insert these genes and they have no way of controlling gene expression. 
Genes don't work in isolation, changing a few could change the whole picture, with unpredictable results.
• Genetically modified crops cross-pollinate with nearby non-genetically modified foods plants and could create ecological problems. 
 Genetically Modified Foods technology companies patent their crops and also engineer crops so that harvested grain germs are incapable of developing.
• Since the production of engineered food involves infusing animal genes in the crops and tampering with nature, it might not be good for consumption in the long run.
• Genetically engineered food would increase the dependency of developing countries, on industrialized nations. This would result in a dominance of the world food production by a few countries. New advances may be skewed to the interests of rich countries.
• The biggest disadvantage of genetically modified food is that they have harmful effects. on the human body. The consumption of these genetically engineered foods can lead to development of diseases that are immune to antibiotics.
• Possible creation of new kinds of weapons; genetic food and beverage weapons.
• Herbicide-resistant and pesticide-resistant crops could give rise to super-weeds and super-pests that would need newer, stronger chemicals to destroy them.


The advantages and disadvantages of genetically modified foods are numerous and is strongly dependent on the consumers’ preference and the developers’ motive. All genetically modified foods should be labelled by law, however according to many articles reviewed most popular brand fail to label their products genetically modified.

Do you support companies that produce Genetically Modified Food? 
leave a comment below and share your views

Are you purchasing your food from a safe source?

Food is a vital part of maintaining proper health and a nutritious diet.  If the foods we eat are not handled and prepared in a hygienic manner the consequences can be detrimental to our health. When purchasing our foods it is of critical importance that we pay special attention to the activities going on around us. 
Observe the cleanliness of the premises you are buying your food from. It is not an easy task to keep a food handling establishment clean, if the operator is not a tidy person. Hence having a well-kept and sanitary establishment is the first step in producing a safe food. In taking note of the cleanliness of the premises there are certain things that will be more evident in the food display area of an unhygienic food premises.
·         Cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and in corners.
·         Excessive dust and dirt on shelves and counter.
·         Over filled garbage receptacle(s).
·         Brooms, mops and other cleaning items in the food display area.
·         Live or dead insects
·         Rodents (rats) droppings
·         Chemicals and other toxic items in the food area.
In the process of preparing food the potential of contamination is very high. This risk increases exponentially when the food handler has no regards for personal and food hygienic practices. Consequently this may result in the consumer eating unsafe food and getting sick. For this purpose it is imperative that the consumer pays attention to the person handling and preparing their food. According to the Center of Disease control and prevention (CDC) they estimate that 97% of food borne illness can be linked to improper handling of food in the homes and restaurants. As a result a food handlers who;
·         Talks excessively over  the food
·         Do not practices frequent hand washing
·         Do not wear proper protective clothing (hair nets)
·         Has long or dirty nails
·         Whitlow fingers
·         Boils and rash on the uncovered areas of the body
·         Has on jewelry while preparing food
Will likely contaminate your food and hence as consumers you need to be more skeptic about buying food from these sources.

Finally, it’s critical that you purchase foods from certified establishments. This means an establishment that has been certified by the Ministry of Health to sell food to the public. Such premise will have a health certificate posted in a conspicuous area of the food premises.  The significance for this is that these premises are monitored by a public Health Inspector periodically and have satisfied the minimum requirements under the Public Health Law to sell food.  At some point in our daily activities we take on the role of a consumer therefore, it’s essential that we are cognitive of these facts that will assist us in purchasing safer and wholesome foods for ourselves and family members.