Health authorities both nationally and globally continue to maintain efforts to improve the understanding of Zika Virus Disease. As more persons become infected worldwide, the understanding of the disease and its complications is evolving. This has resulted in on-going efforts dedicated at research of this disease and continuous dissemination of new information to aid in strengthening national public health responses.
Scientific evidence on Zika virus transmission has indicated that women of child bearing age are of particular interest, due to the risk of transmission to their unborn and possible complications such as microcephaly (head of abnormally small size) in newborns. Sexually active men who have had Zika are also another group of particular interest, as the virus can remain in the semen for up to six months after infection. This therefore makes sexual activity another significant route of transmission of the Zika virus, in addition to the primary mode of transmission; that being through the bite of infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. This finding on Zika virus disease transmission has warranted national public health authorities, including the Ministry of Health in Saint Lucia, to review and making necessary modifications to current Zika management, prevention and treatment guidelines.
Within this context, it should be noted that to date, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other health experts cannot definitely indicate the chances that a pregnant woman infected with Zika virus, may have a newborn with microcephaly or other health complications. Current evidence seems to suggest that most women infected with Zika during pregnancy have normal babies. However, some Zika infected pregnant women deliver babies with abnormalities such as microcephaly. There are even public health experts who believe that some children who look normal at birth, may develop issues later in life that are associated with their mother’s Zika infection during her pregnancy. However, this is yet to be proven.
Reproduction is established as a universal human right. Therefore, the Ministry of Health maintains it advocacy for and facilitation of persons in the planning of their families. In the environment of a Zika epidemic and in an effort to decrease the risk of a possible outcome of a baby born with microcephaly, women of child bearing age are encouraged to utilize contraceptives in order to prevent un-intended pregnancies. Contraceptives are available at all Wellness Centers, as well as at the Family Planning Clinic and health related facilities within the private sector.
However, women who plan to become pregnant at this time are encouraged to take all measures to prevent themselves from being bitten by mosquitoes and decrease their risk of becoming infected with the Zika virus. These measures include getting rid of mosquito breeding sites in and around the home; wearing long sleeved clothing and long pants; using insect repellents; utilizing bed nets for sleeping (as well as when resting during the day); installing insect screens in windows and doors and taking other measures such as the judicious use of insecticides to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. In addition, given the length of time that Zika virus disease remains in semen of previously infected men, the World Health Organization recommends that barrier contraception such as condoms should be used by pregnant and non pregnant women, when engaging in sexual activity with a male partner who has been infected with the Zika virus in the past 6 months.
For couples who do decide to get pregnant in this current environment of a Zika outbreak, the details of individual pregnancy management will be between the woman, her partner and her medical practitioner. Notwithstanding, couples should note all current guidance and prepare for any eventuality when planning their families at this time.
Zika virus disease is primarily a mosquito borne disease, which can also be transmitted sexually. Most persons who contract the disease will have mild symptoms including fever, headache, muscle ache, joint pains and swelling, skin rash and in some cases, conjunctivitis or ‘red eye’. Increased cases of microcephaly (babies being born with small heads and abnormalities of the nervous system) as well as Guillian Barre Syndrome (GBS) (ascending paralysis of muscles occurring about 1-2 weeks after recovery) have been associated with outbreaks of Zika Virus Disease.
The main method of preventing Zika virus infection is by preventing the breeding of mosquitoes. Persons should also take measures to prevent themselves from being bitten by mosquitoes. As such, the public is reminded to remove all breeding and potential breeding sites for the Aedes aegypti mosquito from their homes and environment. Use of barrier contraceptive methods such as condoms is also advised to reduce sexual transmission of Zika. Women of child bearing age are encouraged to use contraceptives to avoid unintended pregnancies and pregnant women are advised to take all measures to prevent themselves from contracting Zika virus disease, in order to avoid potential abnormalities in their newborns.
For more information on mosquito borne diseases including Zika virus, please contact the Bureau of Health Education at 468 5318 and 4685349.
Yearly trends in microcephaly cases as well as Guillain Barre Syndrome cases from 2007- to date in 2016. Both of these conditions have a number of other causes. Some countries have noted an abnormal increase in those diseases in the context of a Zika Virus Disease outbreak. To date, St. Lucia has recorded no abnormal increase in those conditions but the situation is being closely monitored as the Zika outbreak progresses.
Source: Epidemiology Unit