Zika suspected in three Cayman residents, one visitor

At least three had recently traveled to areas with Zika

A medical researcher prepares tests for various diseases including Zika. Samples from Cayman have been sent to a laboratory in Trinidad for testing. – PHOTO: AP

The Public Health Department is awaiting test results for three Cayman residents and one visitor after they presented symptoms consistent with the Zika virus.

A press release from the Public Health Department on Thursday said three of the four people had traveled to areas with known Zika outbreaks. The department sent blood samples from the four people to the Caribbean Public Health Agency, known as CARPHA, in Trinidad on Wednesday to test for Zika. The results are expected to be known in about a week, officials said.

Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, acting medical officer of health for the Health Services Authority, said the department has been in touch with the regional agency and that the CARPHA laboratory will prioritize testing the samples from Cayman.

“These patients have signs and symptoms suggestive of Zika virus infection,” Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said by email.

He said he released the information before getting the final test results because “Our intention is to provide regular updates to the Ministry of Health and the public.”

The four are also being tested for chikungunya and dengue, which have similar symptoms and are carried by the same mosquito.

The mosquito-borne Zika virus has swept across the Americas over the past year, with local transmissions of the virus confirmed in dozens of countries across South and Central America and the Caribbean.

The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency as scientists linked Zika to birth defects and neurological disorders. Public health officials found that Zika caused a spike in cases of microcephaly, a severe birth defect, in babies born to infected mothers.

Most people never show symptoms when infected with the virus, but about 20 percent of those infected could have a fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis.

Zika is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, a black mosquito with white bands that breeds in standing fresh water around homes and urban areas.

Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said the Mosquito Research and Control Unit knows the possible places where mosquitoes could have come in contact with the suspected Zika patients and are spraying in those areas.

“Regardless of the outcome, the public is being reminded to employ protective measures against mosquito bites locally or during their travels. Use mosquito repellents containing DEET on skin and clothing, and when outdoors during times that mosquitoes are biting, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into socks,” Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said.

In a statement, Premier and Health Minister Alden McLaughlin said, “The Government has been closely monitoring this situation as its incidence has continued to increase across the region.”

He noted, “I assure all residents that the Department of Public Health and the Mosquito Research and Control Unit are working together, keeping a close watch, and have increased their vigilance and mosquito control efforts to minimize the population of the vector mosquito.”

The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes prefer to live around homes and urban areas, using anything that can hold standing fresh water to breed. Common breeding sites for the mosquitoes include old tires, clogged gutters, plant dishes and anything that can hold rainwater.

“People can greatly assist in reducing the local Aedes aegypti population by clearing their yards of containers that can hold water, as these are favorite breeding sites for this mosquito,” MRCU Director Bill Petrie said.