A male howler monkey is captured on a bamboo patch while eating shrubs long the Tamana Hill, Tamana.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram has placed the country on heightened alert for the vector-borne disease Yellow Fever, which has been confirmed in the Red Howler monkey population which mainly inhabits the southern region of T&T.

As he issued the warning during the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 briefing yesterday, Parasram said, “We have noticed over the past couple of months, there has been an increase in the number of deaths of these animals within certain districts in the southern region, in particular, the Plum Mitan and Biche areas.”

He said in the forested area which stretches all the way to Rio Claro, they had sighted animals within recent weeks coming to the fore “which is usually a sign of illness.”

He said the Ministry of Health suspected they were diseased animals and submitted a sample last week to the Trinidad Public Health Lab for a necropsy to be done.

After strong suggestions that it could be Yellow Fever, Parasram said another sample was submitted to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and on Tuesday, “They actually returned a positive for Yellow Fever to us.”

Transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito from human to animal and animal to human, he explained, “What it means for us to find a positive animal with Yellow Fever in the country is that we need to be on heightened alert.”

Despite T&T having recorded its last Yellow Fever case back in 1979, Parasram advised, “What we have to do as a population is ensure we have our vaccination for Yellow Fever.”

With no human cases recorded at this time in T&T, he assured the authorities had 105,400 Yellow Fever vaccines currently on hand to vaccinate those who need them.

He said this vaccine is usually covered in the childhood immunisation schedule which meant that by the age of one, people would normally be immunised with the single-dose vaccine which offers cover for life.

He said once a person has received this vaccine, there is no need to repeat it. For those who cannot remember receiving the vaccine, he said it was better to take it than not at all.

However, he said people who operate in forested areas such as veterinary personnel; laboratory workers; agriculture personnel; hunters; forest workers; adventure seekers; Defence Force personnel; health care workers who frequent these areas; and those residing near to such areas needed to ensure they were vaccinated and employ personal protective measures to guard against mosquito bites.

Referring to the introduction of online classes which resulted from schools being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Parasram said the level of scrutiny usually paid to the immunization schedule of students attending school had decreased.

He said in respect of Yellow Fever, “Our coverage rate in the country has gone down over the 2020 period. In 2019, our coverage would have been 98 per cent at a national level.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) requires 95 per cent at a national level for countries to sufficiently protect their populations from this particular disease.

However, Parasram said T&T had now, “gone down to 89.2 per cent with regards to Yellow Fever.”

As such, he appealed, “We are calling on parents to take your children in to the health centres to be vaccinated to ensure our coverage gets back up to 95 per cent.”

He said in certain counties, the 95 per cent target had been achieved and even surpassed, but it was important for it to be done in all jurisdictions.