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Zika Disease With Significant Risks For Pregnant Women Reported In 11 Regional Countries


FORT-DE-FRANCE – Martinique is just the latest Caribbean country or territory in the Americas to report autochthonous, or local transmission of Zika virus, according to a Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Epidemiological report this week.

This makes the island in the Lesser Antilles in the eastern Caribbean Sea the 11th place in the Americas to report the mosquito borne virus in 2015 and the 12th to report local transmission in total.

“In the last decade, the Caribbean has been wrestling with wave after wave of vector borne diseases,” said Dr. Joy St. John, Director of Surveillance, Disease Prevention and Control at CARPHA. “During the last two years the Region has seen unrelenting outbreaks of Chikungunya, and more recently Zika.”

She said this at the opening of a Workshop to Develop a Regional Network on Surveillance and Diagnosis of Emerging Vector-borne Diseases in the Caribbean earlier this month.

Zika fever is a disease caused by the Zika virus (ZIKV), transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. This virus was first isolated in 1947 from rhesus monkey samples, in the Zika forest in Uganda. The virus was named after the region where it was first collected.

Zika virus infection may present with few or no symptoms. In general, disease symptoms are mild and short-lasting (2-7 days).

Where present, they are similar to symptoms of dengue and chikungunya, and may include fever, joint and muscle pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), retro-orbital pain, headache, weakness, rash, swelling of the lower limbs and to a lesser extent vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain.

Zika is a mosquito-borne disease, which was first identified in Chile in February last year, has since spread to Brazil, Columbia and the Caribbean.

In November the Caribbean Public Health Agency confirmed five cases of the zika virus in a territory of the Caribbean Community.

Last week, the Turks and Caicos Ministry of Health confirmed that so far no cases of zika have been detected there.

The disease is transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, which attack mostly during the daytime.

The same mosquito is also responsible for dengue and chikungunya.

The most common symptoms of zika virus are mild and include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes (conjunctivitis).

Other symptoms include muscle pain, headache, pain behind the eyes, and vomiting.

Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for zika. Anyone that suspects they have zika should see their health care provider.

“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, Advil, Ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) should be avoided,” the TCI Ministry of Health said. “In order to protect yourself from mosquito bites use insect repellents on exposed skin, when weather permits, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and use air conditioning or window/door screens to keep mosquitoes outside. If you are not able to protect yourself from mosquitoes in your home, sleep under a mosquito bed net.”

It is even more critical for women who are pregnant to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

A link between mothers who had zika virus in pregnancy and an increased incidence of microcephaly in infants born to them is currently being investigated.

Microcephaly is a condition where the size of an infant’s head is smaller than normal, because of slowed or incomplete brain development.

The Environmental Health Department has enhanced its vector control activities to reduce mosquito breeding sites in addition to stepping up fogging.

Members of the public are urged to eliminate breeding sites for mosquitoes by keeping their surroundings clean.

“Cover or turn over containers. Tightly cover drums and rain barrels as well as boats and wading pools. Get rid of or cover old tires. Properly dispose of all garbage and refuse.

“Clean rain gutters and make sure they are flowing properly. Inspect your home and yard weekly,” the release read.

There is no specific medicine or treatment for Zika virus infection.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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