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Mar 11, 2011

Ministry of Health says not so about potential spread of Typhoid Fever

The bacteria that causes typhoid fever spreads through contaminated food, drink, or water. Cases of the fever have been reported on La Isla Bonita and residents are worrying that it can spread throughout the island. But the Ministry of Health says not so. News Five Marion Ali reports.

Marion Ali, Reporting

Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection characterized by diarrhea, systemic disease, and a rash most commonly caused by the bacteria Salmonella typhi.  For several weeks there have been mixed reports of whether or not the highly contagious virus is present in the nation’s most visited tourist destination—San Pedro.  While a medical lab on the island has confirmed that typhoid was suspected among several persons, the Ministry of Health’s Central Laboratory has not returned results for any of the samples.  Editor of the San Pedro Sun, Tamara Sniffin, says she got sick on Valentine weekend and her test results came back positive.

Tamara Sniffin, Typhoid Victim

Tamara Sniffin

“I started running a very high temperature, very achy severe diarrhea—very, very sick—chills and all of that. So that Monday, the eighteenth of February, I went in to my doctor to be examined. She decided to take a blood test and she had said that she understood that there were some cases of typhoid on the island. So she took a blood test and later that day she called me and said that my test was positive for typhoid.”

But an official at the Central Health Region Laboratory where the samples are sent for confirmation has denied that any of the cases in San Pedro was ever typhoid.  The official, who spoke to us off camera, said that typhoid is detected by tests conducted on fecal matter and not through blood samples.  And a check with the nation’s only referral hospital, the Karl Heusner Memorial, Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bernard Bulwer says there have been no cases confirmed at the hospital.

Dr. Bernard Bulwer, Chief Medical Officer, K.H.M.H.

Bernard Bulwer

“As far as the question about are we looking at anything resembling an epidemic or outbreak of typhoid?  The answer from our emergency department is no. Certainly from where we sit at the K.H.M.H. we’re not seeing any cases for alarm our concern.”

But while mainland Belize has reported no case of typhoid fever, nor has the Ministry of Health announced any cases in San Pedro, Doctor Daniel Gonzalez, co-owner of the San Pedro Central Laboratory which conducted tests on blood samples, told News Five that he is convinced that the virus is present on the island.

Dr. Daniel Gonzalez, Co-owner, San Pedro Lab Centre

“I don’t know exactly the amount of patients that we have had in San Pedro. I can talk at least about two cases that I’ve had here at my office that I have treated for typhoid fever. It’s confirmed through with all tests which check for titers of immunological tests.”

Marion Ali

“Was it confirmed by your lab here in San Pedro?

Daniel Gonzalez

Dr. Daniel Gonzalez

“Yes it was confirmed by my lab here in San Pedro, yes.”

Marion Ali

“Are you satisfied that the test that you conducted here in your lab is accurate? That it is typhoid and not something else because the Central Lab told me this morning that they have no confirmed positive case of typhoid in Belize.”

Dr. Daniel Gonzalez

“I’m sure because of the symptoms of my patient and confirmed by the widal test which in most of these cases have been very high titers.”

Tamara Sniffin

“I did speak with the Health Department and they wanted to do stool samples on myself and other people who had been tested positive. Now by the time they tested me, I had already finished my treatment and I believe that some of the other people they wanted to test, they couldn’t because they were still under treatment. So, after they tested me I had already finished my treatment so I wasn’t positive after that as far as the stool was concerned.”

But typhoid can be prevented if people stay clear of fecal matter.

Tamara Sniffin

“I think people always need to take precaution measures in areas where there is a lot of open water which we have—not just the ocean, but lagoons and canals. It’s just very, very important to use good personal hygiene and it is important to know where your water source is coming from. Now the tap water on the island is totally clean. I mean it is tested every day as my understanding. But it is where you bathe. If you are not bathing in the ocean, if you are bathing in the lagoons or whatever, then there is a chance that you could become contaminated.”

Dr. Daniel Gonzalez

“The way that this infection is transmitted is from the feces of an infected patient. So in other words we need to wash our hands we need to be sure that the foods and waters are clean that we are ingesting. And in that we, we prevent it. So its always washing our hands every time we go to the bathroom. Another important thing also which our government should be doing is monitoring the vendors here because like I said, there is a lot of patients who are carriers, but do not present symptoms. And these patients are patients that are just transmitting the infection.”

According to Tamara Sniffin, she was made aware of eleven reported cases of typhoid in San Pedro over the past few weeks.  Marion Ali for News Five.

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