Jamaica equipped to test for Zika

Jamaica's Minister of Health, Christopher Tufton, second left, is shown a sample in viral transport media by National Virology Reference Laboratory Chief Medical Lab Technician Evan Edwards, seated right, during a tour of the newly upgraded lab last month. Also pictured, from left, are University Hospital of the West Indies Medical Chief of Staff Dr. Carl Bruce; Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization representative in Jamaica, Dr. Noreen Jack; and head of the university hospital's Microbiology Department, Dr. Allison Nicholson. - PHOTO: Jamaica Information Service

Jamaica’s National Virology Laboratory can now test for the Zika virus, becoming the second country in the Caribbean equipped to do so, according to the Jamaica Information Service.

Until last month, Jamaica, like Cayman and other countries in the Caribbean, had to send test samples to the Caribbean Public Health Agency lab in Trinidad and Tobago.

Now, the National Virology Reference Laboratory, housed at the University Hospital of the West Indies, Mona, is now fully equipped to test for viral infections, including Zika, dengue and chikungunya, and no longer has to send samples of suspected cases overseas.

A Pan American Health Organization representative, Dr. Noreen Jack, told the Jamaica Observer that while there is little difference in the cost of having the test done in Jamaica versus sending it to Trinidad, there is a benefit in a faster turnaround time for results.

Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, Cayman’s acting medical officer of health, said the Public Health Department “may explore” with the Pan American Health Organization office in Jamaica the possibility of potentially using the National Virology Reference Laboratory in the future, “if the necessity arises.”

“It is very important for Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean that there is another country in the region with the capability to test for Zika,” Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said.

Since January, 27 cases in Cayman have been tested for Zika, chikungunya and dengue fever, all of which were negative.

According to Dr. Williams-Rodriguez, Cayman has arrangements with the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad and Tobago to test for Zika, chikungunya, dengue fever and other pathogens, if needed.

“We are pleased with this arrangement and the quality, reliability and turnaround time for the results,” Dr. Williams-Rodriguez told the Cayman Compass.

He noted that testing for these conditions is done for surveillance purposes, as there is no specific treatment for these conditions beyond symptom management.

The physical address for all suspected cases of Zika, chikungunya and dengue are reported to the Cayman Mosquito Research and Control Unit immediately, before the sample is sent overseas, for targeted vector control measures, Dr. Williams-Rodriguez added.

Taking precautions

While there have been no reported or confirmed cases of Zika in the Cayman Islands, the Cayman Islands Public Health Department is urging residents to take precautions to eliminate potential breeding sites of the mosquito that carries the virus.

“The public is being reminded that an abundance of caution is still to be taken in respect to prevention of being bitten by the Aedes aegypti mosquito,” said Dr. Williams-Rodriguez in a press statement.

Members of the public can take preventative measures to reduce the incidence of contact between mosquitoes and people, Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said. Such measures include using barriers such as repellents containing DEET, screens on doors and windows or closing doors and windows, wearing long clothing, and reducing the breeding of mosquitoes through removing and modifying breeding sites.

William Petrie, head of the MRCU, encouraged members of the public to check their yards twice a week to remove containers and potential breeding sites of the mosquito.

Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so breeding sites can include trash cans, animal bowls, plant pots and water drums and cisterns.

“While we may not be experiencing any cases of Zika, we do not want to become complacent,” Dr. Petrie said in the press statement.

The MRCU is continuing its work to reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The unit provides regular updates on its daily aerial and ground operations on its Facebook page.

The Public Health Department is also reminding members of the public that while the Zika virus is mainly transmitted through Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, other modes of transmission, such as sexual transmission, have been documented.

“I encourage all men and women returning from where local transmission of Zika virus is known to occur in adopting safer sexual practices or consider abstinence for at least four weeks after return,’ Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said. “This is especially true for women who are pregnant.”

While Cayman remains untouched by the Zika virus, it continues to spread steadily throughout the region. As of April 4, there are 47 countries reporting active Zika transmission.