Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie Skelton announced on 30 August that there is no cause for undue alarm as a result of the recent announcement of five laboratory confirmed cases of the Zika Virus.
Hon. Skelton said that it is understandable that some concern has arisen as a result of the diagnosis, but the Minister stressed that there is no cause for undue alarm. “We have been monitoring the spread of this mosquito-borne virus across the Americas and the Caribbean region since the first reported case in Brazil in May 2015. When local transmission was later detected in St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, and the neighbouring US Virgin Islands, we anticipated that it would not be long before the virus reached the shores of the BVI.”
Now that the virus is here Hon. Skelton stated that the Ministry of Health is working with other partners, and continues to make every effort to prevent and minimize the impact of Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses such as Dengue and Chikungunya.
However, Hon. Skelton stated that unlike Chikungunya and Dengue, Zika can be transmitted through sexual contact, and from a pregnant woman to her unborn child. “Infection during pregnancy has been linked to a specific birth defect known as microcephaly in a very small number of cases. There is presently no intervention to counter the passage of the virus from an infected mother to unborn child in those infrequent cases. However, doctors in the BVI have received clinical guidance to monitor all pregnant women, and to provide supportive care throughout the pregnancy in order to ensure the best possible outcome,” he noted.
The Minister further urged residents and visitors to seek medical assistance if they experience any of the symptoms of Zika, he also encouraged everyone to take responsibility for reducing the mosquito population by eliminating mosquito breeding sites.
It was also announced that the Ministry of Health through its Waste Management Department and Environmental Health Division will continue its clean-up efforts, fogging programme, chemical treatment of larger water catchments, inspection of premises, and assistance to households.
On Wednesday 25 August Medical Health Officer, Dr. Ronald Georges confirmed that the BVI now has its first five Zika cases.
It was explained that three of the cases were discovered locally and two cases were tested overseas and found to be positive. It was pointed out that the cases were contracted in the Cane Garden Bay and Havers areas of Tortola.
Following the discovery Dr. Georges pointed out “With our neighbouring islands contracting the virus, it was only a matter of time for the Territory to confirm cases.” He also noted that Public Heath has been coordinating very closely with the Environmental Health Division to address the ‘hot zones’ for inspection and mitigation to minimize the impact of Zika.
The Zika virus causes symptoms similar to chikungunya and dengue fever which lasts two to seven days; and it was noted that some persons may show no signs while 20 percent of persons who contract the virus may be symptomatic. Symptoms include rash, joint-pain, fever and an eye infection known as conjunctivitis or pink eye.
Zika virus is primarily transmitted by the Aedes species of mosquito which is also responsible for the spread of dengue, Chikungunya and yellow fever viruses. In most areas, the primary vector of these viruses is Aedes aegypti, with Aedes albopictus a proven or potential vector in some settings. Well-implemented vector control against Aedes using existing tools effectively reduces the transmission of viruses spread by these vectors. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that pilot studies are being undertaken on new tools which have potential for future reductions inAedes populations.
WHO also indicated that mounting evidence has shown that sexual transmission of Zika virus is possible and more common than previously assumed. This is of concern due to an association between Zika virus infection and adverse pregnancy and fetal outcomes, including microcephaly, neurological complications and Guillain-Barré syndrome.