Cayman Islands public health officials are hosting a series of meetings aimed at informing local residents, especially pregnant women, about risks associated with the Zika virus.

The meetings are set to start on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at the George Town town hall starting at 6 p.m.

All other meetings will be held between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. and are set on the following dates: Oct. 4 at the Bodden Town Civic Centre; Oct. 6 at Sir John A. Cumber Primary School Hall, West Bay; Oct. 18 at the East End Civic Centre; and Oct. 25 at the North Side Civic Centre.

The meetings will be attended by the government’s Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, Ministry of Health Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn, two obstetricians, an internal medicine specialist and a nurse-midwife. Mosquito Control and Research Unit chief Dr. Bill Petrie is also set to attend.

The first two reported cases of the Zika virus involving residents who contracted it overseas were reported by public health authorities on July 5. About a month later, on Aug. 8, officials reported the first locally contracted case of the virus.

The latest reports indicate a dozen Zika cases have been contracted locally, while another seven were contracted by residents on overseas visits.

Public health officials said it took time to organize the public meetings and find appropriate, available venues in which to hold them.

“The intention is not to alarm people but to further empower them to be vigilant against the virus and to take precautions against the Aedes aegypti mosquito which is the main vector of Zika,” said Public Health Surveillance Officer Timothy McLaughlin-Munro. “One of the best ways to do this is through education and dialogue at town hall meetings.

“We will have a panel there to explain what we are doing and to answer any questions or concerns the public may have. As with all viruses, we are taking this outbreak of Zika extremely seriously and are addressing it with every available resource at our disposal.”

The Zika virus has been linked with a condition known as microcephaly, where the size of an infant’s head is smaller than normal due to slowed or incomplete brain development.

Zika symptoms can affect any person and can be quite severe, leading to rash, fever, and conjunctivitis (pink eye). The virus can be transmitted through bites from Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, but can also be transmitted through sexual activity.

“We continue to caution everyone, especially women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, to be extra careful during their travels overseas where there is an outbreak,” said Dr. Williams-Rodriguez. “We advise any person who develops Zika virus symptoms, especially fever, rash [or] conjunctivitis, within two weeks of having returned from countries with Zika virus cases to consult their physician and inform [them] of their travel history.”

Dr. Petrie advises the public to do its part in reducing the Aedes aegypti population by clearing yards of containers that hold water, the favorite breeding sites of the mosquito.

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