Cayman ‘Zika free,’ health officials say

Case was likely sexually transmitted between tourists

A Mosquito Research and Control Unit truck transports a fogging machine and a suited mosquito control officer. – PHOTO: BASIA MCGUIRE

The recent case of Zika possibly linked to Cayman was not spread by local mosquitoes, but was sexually transmitted by a tourist’s partner from St. Maarten, the Cayman Islands Public Health Department said Wednesday.

Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez said in a statement that a female tourist from the Netherlands met in Cayman with her partner in May. Both the man and woman exhibited mild Zika symptoms, and she tested positive for the virus when she returned home.

Dr. Williams-Rodriguez, head of public health for Cayman said, “At this stage, taking into consideration her medical history and the visit from her partner from a country with a confirmed Zika virus outbreak, coupled with the fact that they stayed together for a period of one week after the onset of his symptoms, we conclude that this is a presumptive case of sexually transmitted Zika virus.”

In the written statement, Dr. Williams-Rodriguez noted, “I want to make it unequivocally clear that as of June 7, 2016, there are no confirmed cases of Zika virus in the Cayman Islands. I encourage all residents who have returned from an endemic country where there is an outbreak of the Zika virus and who present with symptoms, to contact their general practitioner.”

The Public Health Department said the woman from Amsterdam visited Cayman from April 13 to May 18, and her partner visited for 11 days, starting on May 6. The statement noted that the man from St. Maarten had symptoms on May 10 but did not go to a doctor.

The woman had mild Zika-like symptoms, similar to those for dengue and chikungunya, from May 11 to 13, according to Dr. Williams-Rodriguez. He said she traveled back to the Netherlands on May 18 and again had symptoms of Zika, which are similar to symptoms for dengue and Chikungunya. She sought medical attention in her home country and tested positive for Zika.

“As the case was diagnosed in the Netherlands, it will be reported as an imported case for the Netherlands and not the Cayman Islands. The Mosquito Research and Control Unit is fully informed of the details surrounding this investigation and continues to take all the necessary measures to intensify vector control in the area where the couple stayed,” Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said.

He added, “Residents who have no travel history to any country endemic to the Zika virus but who experience symptoms, especially skin rash, conjunctivitis (red eyes) and fever, should alert their general practitioner at once.”

Zika is transmitted through Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and can also be passed from men to women through sexual intercourse. The Public Health Department warns, “All men returning from where local transmission of Zika virus is known to occur are encouraged to adopt safer sexual practices or consider abstinence for at least four weeks after return.”

Zika is active in most countries in the Caribbean, and almost all of South and Central America.

The Mosquito Research and Control Unit has been increasing its efforts to control the Aedes aegypti and other mosquitoes as the rainy season begins. MRCU director Bill Petrie, in a recent interview, said the unit is ready to respond to any potential Zika outbreak and is working to keep mosquito populations under control so any potential virus is kept under control.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes prefer to live and breed around homes in fresh water and, Mr. Petrie said, are notoriously hard to control. They breed in clogged gutters, inside tires and birdbaths, and other areas that collect fresh water. The best way to control the Aedes mosquitoes is by making sure there’s no standing water in buckets, water bowls and other things that could hold rainwater.

Many people infected with Zika show no symptoms, and those that do could have a fever, rash, and joint and muscle pain. The most serious impact from Zika is for pregnant women. Babies of women who contract the virus while pregnant can be born with severe brain defects, most notably microcephaly, when the head and brain do not fully develop.

Jamaica announced this week that it will require Zika tests for all pregnant women.