Cayman now has 17 confirmed locally transmitted cases of Zika, including one pregnant woman, according to public health officials.
All of the confirmed local cases are in George Town.
The total number of cases confirmed with laboratory results, including those suspected to have come from overseas travel, is now 26, with an additional 15 cases suspected, public health officials announced Tuesday at a town hall meeting in George Town. Of the suspected cases, two are in West Bay and four in Bodden Town, the remaining nine are in George Town.
The biggest concern with Zika is for pregnant women. Babies born to women infected with the virus can have severe birth defects. The latest round of test results confirmed that a pregnant woman living in the Swamp area in George Town had contracted Zika.
Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, acting medical officer of health for the Health Services Authority, said ultrasounds showed the baby was developing normally but doctors will continue to monitor mother and baby.
“We are having an outbreak of Zika in the Cayman Islands,” he said, centered in George Town. Public health officials said the cases have shown up across George Town, but they have seen more in Windsor Park, Swamp, Rock Hole and Prospect areas, and along North Sound Road.
Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said the total number of cases is likely much higher as most people will never show symptoms. “Estimating the number of people potentially infected with the Zika virus is not very precise,” he said in a later email responding to the questions.
“Assuming that 26 laboratory confirmed cases comprise the 20 percent showing symptoms, the total number of persons potentially infected could be as high as 135,” he said, stressing that the number is a “rough estimate” and the exact figure could not be known.
People who do show symptoms of Zika can have a rash, conjunctivitis (red eyes), mild fever and joint or muscle pain. Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said he hoped anyone with a combination of those symptoms will see a doctor.
Controlling mosquitoes to combat Zika
The Zika virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also responsible for carrying dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
Bill Petrie, head of the Mosquito Research and Control Unit, told the roughly 20 people at the town hall meeting that the Aedes aegypti is notoriously hard to combat. The mosquito, originally from Africa, has adapted to living with humans and prefers to lay its eggs around homes and gardens in any receptacle that can hold a little rainwater.
The Aedes mosquitoes will breed in old tires, clogged gutters, dog bowls, even bottle caps – anything that can catch rainwater. They do not breed in swamps like the types of mosquitoes that come out at dusk.
Mr. Petrie said people should go through their yards and overturn buckets, clean up any litter, clear gutters and make sure there is nothing around to collect rainwater. He said this method of “source reduction” does not work very well in big cities, but “Cayman is quite amenable to this.”
He said cleaning up and making sure there is not any standing water can go a long way to keeping Aedes aegypti away from someone’s home.
The MRCU is also spraying pesticides from its plane and fogger trucks to keep the Aedes population down. Mr. Petrie said his unit has been applying “barrier treatments” around schools, the airport, district clinics and around the homes of pregnant women. The barrier is a pesticide that sticks to walls, trees and whatever else it is sprayed on, and the mosquitoes die when they land on it.
The other unique factor with Aedes aegypti, Mr. Petrie said, is that they bite during the day, most often in the three to four hours before the sun goes down.
Mr. Petrie said Aedes aegypti did not become established in Cayman until after Hurricane Ivan. “Derelict vehicles after Ivan were a huge problem for us,” he said, giving the mosquitoes lots of places to breed and take hold on Grand Cayman.
More meetings scheduled
Health officials have four more meetings scheduled across the island so people can have a chance to get an update and ask questions directly to the experts. The Public Health Department will host meetings at the Bodden Town Civic Centre on Tuesday, Oct. 4; at West Bay’s Sir John A. Cumber Primary School Hall on Thursday, Oct. 6; at the East End Civic Centre on Tuesday, Oct. 18; and at the North Side Civic Centre Tuesday, Oct. 25. All meetings will run from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.