Although it is not an issue in the Cayman Islands yet, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said there is the potential for an outbreak of Dengue Fever here this year.
‘Dengue has reached epidemic proportions in the region and expectations are the situation will get worse before it gets better,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.
‘(Dengue Fever) is a very real threat in Cayman. For the first time in many years, there is the potential for an outbreak.’
Mr. Tibbetts noted that there is a worldwide increase in the cases of Dengue Fever, and that it is occurring in increasing numbers in Latin Americana and the Caribbean.
Mr. Tibbetts said the good news was that the Mosquito Research and Control Unit already had all the pieces in place to fight a Dengue Fever outbreak should it occur.
Dengue Fever is a mosquito-borne flu-like disease. It is spread by the bite of specific species of mosquitoes, most commonly the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Dr. Alan Wheeler, The MRCU’s Assistant Director, said Aedes aegypti has reappeared on Grand Cayman.
‘We’ve eliminated it several times, but it keeps coming back. Hurricane Ivan created the perfect conditions for it,’ he said. ‘It will take a while to get it under control.’
The mosquito probably was reintroduced to the Cayman Islands in egg form, quite possibly on the treads of used tyres, Mr. Wheeler said. A dried Aedes aegypti egg remains viable for two years.
‘All it needs is a little rain to hatch.’
Mr. Wheeler said Aedes aegypti is now here in sufficient numbers to cause the potential for a Dengue Fever outbreak, but he thinks it would probably only be an isolated outbreak.
‘You’re not going to get a situation like you might in Cuba or other countries in the region where it might affect thousands of people,’ he said. ‘It would probably only affect a couple of people here.’
The MRCU is almost finished with its pre-season spraying campaign aimed at Aedes aegypti, Mr. Wheeler said.
The mosquito is black with a white stripe, but is hard to distinguish from another species of common mosquito in Cayman that is also black with a white strip.
‘I think (Aedes aegypti) has a more painful bite though,’ said Mr. Wheeler.
Aedes aegypti is known as a domestic mosquito, which means it is found mostly around homes.
‘Some say it doesn’t travel more than 100 metres from its breeding place, but I don’t know if that’s true,’ Mr. Wheeler said.
It is known, however, that Aedes aegypti will only breed in clean, fresh, non-salty water.
‘It won’t breed in swimming pool because of the chemicals or in a septic tank because it’s too dirty,’ Mr. Wheeler said.
Common places for breeding include buckets, children’s toys, old tyres and in blocked gutters. Mr. Wheeler said it is important for home owners to make sure there are no places where fresh water can accumulate and offer a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Aedes aegypti is known to start biting even in daylight, from 4pm onwards, Mr. Wheeler said. They will sometimes enter homes. The pre-season spraying campaign has targeted the walls of homes in areas known to have bred the mosquito in the past, hoping that any Aedes aegypti that lands on a treated wall will pick up a lethal dose of insecticide.
There have only been six reported cases of Dengue Fever in the Cayman Islands since 2002, said Dr. Kiran Kumar, Cayman’s medical officer of health.
All of those cases, with the exception of one in late 2005, are thought to have been contracted by someone while they were overseas and then came here before becoming ill. The exception case in 2005 was most likely caused by s mosquito that bit someone that had been overseas, and then transferred the disease by biting someone else here.
It is possible others have had the disease here but thought it was only the flu and did not seek medical attention. Dengue Fever can only be diagnosed by a blood test.
Dr. Kumar said it was important for Cayman residents travelling overseas to places were Dengue Fever is endemic, or already known to commonly exist, to take precautions like wearing long pants and long shirts while outdoors or putting on mosquito repellent.
Dengue Fever is endemic in many places in the region, such as Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, Dr. Kumar said.
‘When people travel to these counties, they need to protect themselves.’