By Mellica McPherson-Ganda
On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a “public health emergency of international concern.” This announcement has created worldwide concern about the prevention of the virus; and here in the BVI the Ministry of Health has stepped up campaign to protect the Territory from the virus which to date has not been confirmed here.
As of Monday it was stated that the US reported 31 cases of the Zika virus, which was stated to be affecting people who travelled overseas. On Wednesday it was revealed that an additional sexually transmitted case of the virus was discovered in USA.
Some of the countries affected by the Zika are: Barbados, Curaçao, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, and U.S. Virgin Islands.
Both the United States and Canada have issued Caribbean travel advisories informing their citizens of the presence of the virus and protection guidelines. This type of advisories may impact the Caribbean tourist season hotel bookings.
Meanwhile, the BVI is on the alert as Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ronald Georges announced that although Zika might be seen as a relatively mild illness, the virus can cause serious complications and the Zika may soon find its way to the Territory.
“We need to look at Zika as inevitability — the same way that Chikungunya made its trek across the Americas we have to look at Zika doing the same thing so eventually we will have a confirmed case in the British Virgin Islands,” Dr. Georges commented during a special Zika public education broadcast on 2 February.
The Chief Medical Officer also announced that at the moment the BVI is Zika free: “At this point we don’t have a confirmed case of the Zika virus and we can say that with confidence.
Acting Chief Environmental Health Officer, Yolanda Penn was also a guest on the program and announced that her Unit was working hard at vector control to curtail the virus, but pleaded for residents to join in the prevention effort. “Make it personal”, Penn said as she explained the impact individual vector control can have on virus prevention. She explained that personal precaution measures will go a long way in preventing the breeding of mosquitoes, in this respect the Unit’s fogging initiative is crucial.
Ms. Penn explained that a fogging campaign began since December and is continuing. Nonetheless, she stressed that fogging alone won’t eradicate mosquitoes: “I would urge people not to rely solely on fogging, because that alone will not protect you from vector borne disease. It really is about inspecting your premises weekly to ensure that you are not breeding the mosquito. It is so important.”
Regional Zika Fight
The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has flagged the Zika virus to the highest policy level and the organization announced at a media conference on Monday 25 January that it is taking the necessary steps.
Dr. James Hospedales, Executive Director of CARPHA announced that the organization briefed CARICOM on the economic and other impact of the virus so that the heads of government’s can be informed.
Dr. Hospedales explained that most people with Zika have no symptoms, and when they do have signs of the virus the symptoms are similar to dengue or chikungunya — rash, fever, aches and pains.
The rash usually starts on the face. However there are two main concerns about the Zika virus at the moment. One is the microcephaly babies that are being born with small heads of mothers who got Zika, and the significant increase in people with the neurologic disease Guillain-Barre Syndrome where limbs get weak and in worst case life support is required.
It was noted that there is no specific treatment, vaccine or preventive drug for Zika.
Meanwhile the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) informed that there are already reports of travel cancellations in the Caribbean due to Zika.