Spurred on by the fact that there are now confirmed cases of dengue fever in the Cayman Islands, including two in East End, MLA Arden McLean set out to do something about it. He felt that what his community needed most at this time was reliable, current information. So, Mr. McLean began organizing for a public meeting to be held in his district; one that would feature the experts on the subject. Thursday night’s meeting was the culmination of those efforts, as the meeting in the East End United Church Hall included three different speakers. These speakers were Tim McLaughlin, Epidemiologist with Public Health; Richard Simms, Director of Department of Environmental Health (DEH); and James McNelly, Director of Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU).
As the meeting was called to order, Mr. McLean, who is also the Honourable Leader of the Opposition, explained the purpose of the gathering and the basic timeline of events that led to him organizing it. He assured the crowd that they were going to get the best and most straightforward information available. He then proceeded to introduce the guest speakers.
First to speak was Tim McLaughlin, himself an East Ender, who spoke of the disease itself. He talked about the symptoms, and how it presents. He also clarified that it was a disease that can only be passed on to another person through a mosquito bite. Mr. McLaughlin explained about the length of time that the disease stays active, and the expected length of time that someone would remain sick with Dengue Fever. Also, he elaborated that with this disease, the only thing to be done medically is to treat the symptoms, as there is no vaccine.
Next on the microphone was Dr. James McNelly who spoke to the audience about the mosquito. He expounded on the way that the mosquito feeds, breeds and lives. The fact that this particular type of mosquito that transmits the disease, Aedes aegypti, does not lay eggs in the swamp but rather prefers fresh water, and the fact that this type is rather adept at living indoors, got a big “Oh” from the crowd. Mr. McNelly pointed out the necessity for individuals to survey their property, inside and out, and to eliminate any and all possible breeding spots (any objects where water may collect including buckets, cans, bottles and even lids).
Because he is the director of MRCU, Mr. McNelly also described in detail what his department is doing about this problem. He went over the regular tactics used to control the mosquito population, and how that has been amplified now because of the positive cases of Dengue in the country. Along with Mr. McLaughlin, he did point out that there have been cases of this disease in Cayman in the past and that the transmission had been shut down through these particular strategies of investigation, identification and aggressive treatment of the “hotspots.” They assured everyone that they would again be successful.
Mr. Richard Simms, Director of DEH, spoke last. He called on the public to work alongside his department to eliminate possible breeding grounds for mosquitos. He reiterated that everyone should ensure that nothing holding standing water exists on their property. Mr. Simms also advised the crowd that his department had placed a large dumpster at the community center and he urged everyone to take advantage of it for their large item disposal. Furthermore, Mr. McLean responded to a statement from the audience regarding illegal dumping and urged everyone to spread the word about the dumpster; stating that he hopes that there will be no need for anyone to dump items illegally in the district.
For a small community, there was a decent turnout of about 50 individuals for this meeting. Granted, Mr. McLean stated that he hoped there would be more, but he understood that evenings are difficult for some. He also said that he believed that the community members who attended would spread the word to their family and friends.