Tourist tests positive for Zika

A stayover tourist tested positive for Zika after returning home, the Public Health Department said Friday. The department has not confirmed whether the person contracted Zika in Cayman, but this is the first case of the virus, which can cause birth defects in babies from infected mothers, associated with Cayman.

A genetically modified adult mosquito emerges from its pupa. – PHOTO: OXITEC
A genetically modified adult mosquito emerges from its pupa. – PHOTO: OXITEC

Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, head of public health for the Cayman Islands, said overseas health officials notified his office of the infection on June 1.

In a statement, Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said, “My office contacted the individual and we are in ongoing communication to ascertain the exact details of the individual’s travel history, onset of symptoms and location of stay during the visit to the Islands including other pertinent information that will assist in this investigation to confirm the alleged exposure to the Zika virus in the Cayman Islands.”

The Cayman Islands is one of the few countries in the Caribbean that has not had documented local transmission of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Almost every country in the Caribbean, Central America and South America have cases of Zika contracted locally, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said the public health department has alerted government and others to the possible Zika transmission and will release a full report once an investigation is completed into the cause and potential exposure to the virus in Cayman.

Only about 20 percent of people who contract Zika will show symptoms. The virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito or through sexual intercourse with an infected person, and the symptoms are similar to those of dengue or chikungunya, which are spread by the same type of mosquito.

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint and muscle pain and headache, and can last several days to a week. The biggest dangers from Zika are for pregnant women. Zika can cause severe birth defects in babies born to infected women.

The public health department and the Mosquito Research and Control Unit have been working to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito populations on the island through public education campaigns and by spraying pesticides. The MRCU is also working with researchers from the firm Oxitec to release genetically modified mosquitoes that have been shown to reduce the Aedes aegypti population by more than 95 percent.

Aedes aegypti are notoriously hard to control, according to MRCU director Bill Petrie, because they breed in standing water in and around homes.

The best way to control the Aedes mosquitoes, he said, is to dump standing water and make sure they do not have anywhere to breed, such as old tires, bird baths, clogged gutters and anywhere else that collects rainwater.