Mosquito Unit works to protect pregnant women as Zika fears grow

Mosquito Research and Control Unit researcher Ricardo Caballero checks for mosquito larvae on a roadside in Prospect on Wednesday afternoon. - PHOTO: TANEOS RAMSAY

Some pregnant women have left the Cayman Islands and others are putting off moves to Grand Cayman now that there are known local Zika transmissions. But leaving a job and traveling overseas is not an option for many women who are pregnant and couples trying to conceive.

Cayman’s Mosquito Research and Control Unit has been working to treat areas with known Zika infections, but has also been doing special treatments around where pregnant women live to reduce the chances that they will get bitten by a Zika-carrying mosquito. “We’re treating that as a priority,” said MRCU Director Bill Petrie, with workers treating the yards and areas around where pregnant women live and work.

With expectant mothers, he said, “we don’t want to take any chances.” Mr. Petrie said pregnant women can call the MRCU and the unit will go out to treat the area and hopefully kill off any Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, responsible for carrying the Zika virus, in the same way they would treat around a home of someone who is infected to prevent the spread of the virus.

The symptoms of Zika are normally mild, and many people never even know they have the virus. Those who do show symptoms could have a low-grade fever, rash and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

The biggest problem from Zika is that it can cause severe birth defects in babies born to infected mothers. Zika in many countries has caused babies to be born with microcephaly, an abnormally small head and underdeveloped brain that can lead to death or a lifetime of disability.

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According to international public health officials, Zika can lead to other birth defects, including problems with eyes, hearing and growth, but the research in the range of potential impacts from Zika is still being investigated and new information is coming out regularly from public health researchers around the world.

Obstetrician Dr. Suzanne Muise, in a recent interview, said the lack of research is frustrating, but she gives all her patients in Cayman as much information as she can find so they can decide what is best for their families.

“We don’t know so much of the information that would help us understand the actual risk,” she said.

The Health Services Authority and the Public Health Department recently released guidelines for testing people for Zika, following the practices of the Pan-American Health Organization. Those guidelines state only that people who are showing Zika symptoms and have not traveled to other Zika-infected areas will be tested.

The rules make an exception for pregnant women. Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, Cayman’s leading public health official, said all pregnant women who show possible Zika symptoms will be tested for the virus, regardless of travel history.

World Health Organization guidelines say pregnant women should not be tested unless they show symptoms, but that runs counter to what public health officials in the United States recommend. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that any pregnant women in areas with active Zika transmission be tested in both the first and second trimesters.

Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said Cayman will continue to follow the WHO standards. Speaking with obstetricians in Cayman, additional testing is available for pregnant women, but they may have to pay for the samples to be tested in the United States out of pocket as many insurance companies will not cover the new tests.

The Cayman Compass spoke with several pregnant women about their concerns over Zika, but none would go on the record.

Bhavesh Patel, who recently moved to Cayman from London, said this week that his pregnant wife has delayed joining him on the island until she gives birth. He said she had originally planned to move here in June, but got pregnant in March and they decided to delay her move, even though Zika was not being transmitting locally in Cayman at that point.

“It’s not worth taking the risk,” he said. Asha Patel, his wife, plans to move to Cayman in January after the baby is born.

In the meantime, she continues to work in London and Mr. Patel is able to get back and work at his law firm’s office there every five weeks.

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