(8th December, 2015)
The Ministry of Health has placed the public on high alert following recent announcements by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) of the confirmed presence of Zika Virus in a Caribbean territory.
Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Merlene Fredericks indicated that the Ministry of Health has ramped up its surveillance and testing procedures for Zika Virus as well as Dengue and Chikungunya. Zika is spread in a similar manner as Dengue and Chikungunya by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Fredericks noted that Zika Virus causes an illness which is very similar to symptoms as one sees with Dengue Fever and Chikungunya such as fever, muscle or joint pain and persons may develop a rash. However unlike Dengue and Chikungunya, Zika causes in some cases redness of the eyes.
Though Zika Virus generally causes mild illness in that if five persons are infected with the disease only one of the five may experience symptoms while the other four may have the disease they may show no symptoms nor even recognize they have the disease. However Fredericks highlighted the recent alert by CARPHA for pregnant mothers to prevent themselves being bitten by mosquitoes.
“We would like to give a special warning to pregnant mothers. Mosquitoes actually prefer pregnant mothers. When someone is pregnant the body temperature increases and that’s one of the things that actually attracts mosquitoes.”
The Chief Medical Officer stated that in Brazil and other countries experiencing a Zika outbreak it has been observed that there is an increased incidence of a congenital abnormality called microcephaly. “In some cases if a pregnant mother gets infected with Zika Virus disease early in her pregnancy during the time that the baby is developing in the womb the baby can actually have an abnormality where the head is smaller than it should be…They have also realized in countries with an ongoing epidemic that although most of the cases are mild and many persons who have it don’t even know they have it in a few instances person can develop what is called Guillain Barre Syndrome which is a temporary weakening and sort of paralysis of the muscles which can be mild or severe and most times persons would have to be treated in hospital.”
Fredericks advised that the public particularly pregnant mothers should take every precaution to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes. She advocates the wearing of wearing of long clothing particularly at dusk and dawn when the Aedes aegypti mosquito is know to be most active. She also advises on the use of bed nets, window and door screens and insect repellents.
The senior health official pointed out, though there are no confirmed cases of Zika Viurus on island, it is essentially a matter of time before Zika spreads to the rest of the Caribbean including St. Lucia.
“To date we have noticed no abnormal trend. We are actually below the normal level that we see for these sort of illnesses what we call undifferentiated fever, Dengue, Chikungunya, so we are actually at a very low level right now…We are doing random testing of certain samples when persons come in with fever and joint pain. Even if we believe it’s Dengue or Chikungunya. We’re also taking some samples to send to CARPHA as ask them to check for Zika Virus as well.” Fredericks said.
She emphasized that he public needs to prepare for this disease by employing similar prevention strategies as with Dengue and Chikungunya, to limit the breeding of the Aedes aegypti mosquito and reduce the overall mosquito population.
Prevention she said starts at the home ensuring that yards are clean and free of debris, bulky waste is disposed of at the landfill, tires are disposed of, shredded or filled with soil, drums are covered properly and flower vases filled with soil and not water as the Ades aegypti mosquito breeds mainly in clear stagnant water.