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Public Health updates on Zika virus

Aedes aegypti mosquito carries the Zika virus

Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr Samuel Williams-Rodriguez has provided an update on the current status of the Zika virus outbreak in the Caribbean region and the Americas.

The update follows confirmation on Friday 18th March of four (4) confirmed cases in neighbouring Jamaica bringing the total number to five (5), and Cuba with four (4) cases imported and one (1) case locally transmitted.

The Zika virus continues its spread throughout the region and is steadily spreading. Dr Williams-Rodriguez wishes to assure residents and visitors alike that as of Monday 21st March, 2016 there are no confirmed cases of the Zika virus in the Cayman Islands. “Since January 2016, 27 cases have been routinely tested for Chikungunya virus, dengue fever and Zika virus. All tests have returned negative.

“Globally, a total of 62 countries and territories have reported autochthonous (local) transmission of the Zika virus. Of note, four countries: France, Italy, New Zealand and the United States have reported local acquisition of the virus in the absence of being bitten by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, suggesting cases of likely sexual transmission,” said Dr. Williams-Rodriquez.

So far eight (8) sexually transmitted cases have been confirmed worldwide. In light of this fact, Dr. Williams-Rodriguez went on to say, “All persons with travel history to countries with reports of Zika virus should take appropriate measures including safe sex, to reduce the possibility of spread through sexual intercourse. This holds especially true for pregnant women whose partners live in or travel to areas endemic to the virus”.

He went on to explain that the alert for pregnant mothers is against the background that the mosquito-borne disease has been epidemiologically linked to an increase in incidence of microcephaly (a condition where the size of an infant’s head is smaller than normal, because of slowed or incomplete brain development) noting a coincidence with the Zika virus outbreaks in Brazil.

Meanwhile, Dr. Bill Petrie of the Mosquito Research and Control (MRCU) advised that MRCU continues to take measures to mitigate the rise in the Aedes aegypti population. “We have over the past several weeks embarked on a comprehensive programme of house-to-house inspections and treatments to reduce Aedes aegypti populations and survey to determine the potential for Aedes aegypti breeding, in anticipation of the Zika virus being introduced to Cayman,” said Dr Petrie.

The MRCU has now completed its island-wide survey of Grand Cayman, and is presently collating the data as part of its preparatory phase. “This will prove very useful as we move into Phase Two of our Contingency Plan, by enabling targeting of specific areas, particularly with the onset of the rainy season”, he said. “We are consequently well prepared to respond to the possible introduction of the Zika virus, and to combat the carrier mosquito. While Aedes aegypti is not established on the Sister Islands, we will conduct a similar survey on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman as a precautionary measure.”

Dr Samuel Williams-Rodriguez assures residents of the Cayman Islands that all Zika related recommendations and updates will be reviewed, updated and made known in the public domain as new evidence of the disease becomes available.

Symptoms of the Zika Virus

The symptoms of the Zika virus are very similar to that of dengue and chikungunya; they include fever, muscle and joint pain, conjunctivitis, headache, nausea, and rash. There is no vaccine or treatment; however, symptoms (which last approximately four to seven days) are treatable.

To relieve fever and pain associated with the virus, it is recommended that persons drink lots of fluids and take pain relievers such as Paracetamol. Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) should be avoided to reduce the risk of haemorrhage. Residents are also reminded that the infection may present itself as asymptomatic (showing no symptoms).

Symptoms usually appear following an incubation period of three to 12 days after the bite of an infected mosquito, lasting between four to seven days, and are self-limiting. Complications of the infection requiring hospitalisation are rare.

For further information contact: Suzette Ebanks