Zika virus spreading through region

Four new cases confirmed in Jamaica

Zika is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Zika is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

While no cases of the Zika virus have been reported in the Cayman Islands, the virus continues to spread across the Caribbean and the world.

According to the Cayman Islands Public Health Department’s latest update, the virus is “steadily spreading” throughout the region. As of March 18, four more cases of the virus have been confirmed in Jamaica, bringing the total number of confirmed cases there to five. Four imported cases have been confirmed in Cuba, while one locally transmitted case has been confirmed there.

Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, said in a press release that 27 cases have been tested for chikungunya virus, dengue fever and Zika in Cayman since January, all of which were negative.

The Mosquito Research and Control Unit continues to take measures to reduce the Aedes aegypti population, the species of mosquito that carries the Zika virus. Aedes aegypti prefer to breed in standing freshwater, specifically near homes.

“We have, over the past several weeks, embarked on a comprehensive program of house-to-house inspections and treatments to reduce Aedes aegypti populations and survey to determine the potential for Aedes aegypti breeding, in anticipation of the Zika virus being introduced to Cayman,” said Bill Petrie, director of the MRCU.

The unit has completed an island-wide survey of Grand Cayman, and is assessing the data to prepare for phase two of its contingency plan, which will target specific areas of the island, particularly with the onset of the rainy season.

“We are consequently well prepared to respond to the possible introduction of the Zika virus and to combat the carrier mosquito,” Mr. Petrie said. “While Aedes aegypti is not established on the Sister Islands, we will conduct a similar survey on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman as a precautionary measure.”

According to Dr. Williams-Rodriguez, 62 countries and territories worldwide have reported local transmission of the Zika virus.

Four such countries of note, he said, are France, Italy, New Zealand and the United States, which have reported local acquisition of the virus in the absence of being bitten by the carrier mosquito. This suggests that the cases have been sexually transmitted, he said.

So far, eight sexually transmitted cases have been confirmed worldwide.

“All persons with travel history to countries with reports of Zika virus should take appropriate measures including safe sex, to reduce the possibility of spread through sexual intercourse,” Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said. “This holds especially true for pregnant women whose partners live in or travel to areas endemic to the virus.”

There is also a travel alert for pregnant women, cautioning against travel to areas affected by the virus, since the disease has been linked to an increase in birth defects – specifically microcephaly, a condition in which the size of an infant’s head is smaller than normal because of incomplete brain development.