Cayman fighting Zika before it gets here

The red and white Mosquito Research and Control Unit plane began making the rounds this month, joined by truck-mounted foggers on the ground, to kill the mosquitoes blamed for spreading the Zika virus around South and Central America.

For Cayman’s public health officials, the question is not if the Zika virus, linked to severe birth defects, will arrive in Cayman, but when.

Consensus from the World Health Organization and other international public health leaders is that the best way to control Zika’s spread is to kill the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry the virus.

Bill Petrie, head of the MRCU, said, “The good news is that we have experience in dealing with this type of thing from the previous dengue and chikungunya outbreaks in the region.

“We also have a commitment from government, from the premier, that we will be provided with the resources that we need,” he said at a press conference, joined by Premier Alden McLaughlin and Cayman’s public health officials from the Health Services Authority.

No Zika cases have been identified in Cayman, but the first local case was recently found in Jamaica and the virus is now found in almost every country in South and Central America, and in many Caribbean countries.

Authorities in Colombia and Venezuela recently announced that hundreds of thousands of people may be infected in the South American neighbors, including in Venezuela’s second largest city, Maracaibo, on the Caribbean coast.

In Brazil, where the first serious outbreak began last year, some 1.5 million people are reported to have been infected.

The WHO estimates that only 20 percent of people who contract Zika will show symptoms, including fever, rash and other signs similar to dengue or chikungunya, but the real risk is to the unborn babies whose mothers get the virus. Researchers have linked Zika to major increases in microcephaly, a severe birth defect that causes babies to be born with small heads and underdeveloped brains.

In Cayman, as in other areas where the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes can be found, the best way to fight the spread of the virus is by getting rid of the insects’ breeding areas, most often standing water around homes, officials say.

The Aedes aegypti is considered a domesticated mosquito and lays its eggs in any containers with fresh standing water. The mosquito’s favorite spots include pots, bottles, old tires, clogged rain gutters, anywhere with standing water.

Mr. Petrie called on the public to help get rid of the mosquito’s breeding grounds. He said, “It does not breed in mangroves, swamps or bush; it likes fresh water. It’s a container breeder, so we are talking about buckets and drums, containers the size of a drinking water glass are favored by Aedes aegypti.

“We are encouraging residents to have a look around your home twice a week. It just takes 10 minutes to go around your yard, turn up buckets, cover drums, fix your screens and drain water from plant pots and discarded tires.”

The WHO warns that Aedes aegypti eggs can survive in dry environments for a year or more, so people should clean the surfaces of anything that had standing water and potential mosquito eggs.