GREAT BAY, Sint Maarten (DCOMM) – The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in a December 1st epidemiological alert, calls on Member States to increase vigilance and establish/maintain the capacity to detect and confirm cases of Zika virus infection.
There has been an increase of congenital anomalies such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, and other neurological and autoimmune syndromes in areas where Zika virus is circulating, and their possible relation to the virus, according to PAHO.
In October, Brazil International Health Regulations National Focal Point notified the detection of an unusual increase in microcephaly cases. Microcephaly is a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex. Sometimes detected at birth, microcephaly usually is the result of the brain developing abnormally in the womb or not growing as it should after birth.
Collective Prevention Services (CPS), a department in the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour (Ministry VSA), will be meeting with medical specialists (gynaecologists, paediatricians and midwives) regarding the aforementioned alert from PAHO.
The Zika virus infection is spread via the vector Aedes mosquito which is also prevalent in the Caribbean and Sint Maarten.
CPS is calling on the population to give the elimination of mosquito breeding grounds their urgent attention especially after heavy rainfall in order to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika.
Zika virus is a member of the Flaviviridae family and is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. It is related to other pathogenic vector borne flaviviruses including dengue, West-Nile and Japanese encephalitis viruses but produces a comparatively mild disease in humans.
As of December 1st, nine member states in the Americas have confirmed circulation of the Zika virus: Brazil, Chile (Easter Islands), Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Suriname, and Venezuela. To date there are no Zika virus cases detected on Sint Maarten.
CPS is therefore advising travellers to take necessary preventive measures when abroad (in the aforementioned countries where Zika is in circulation) and to report upon their return to their family physician if they experience flu-like symptoms.
Since 2014, indigenous circulation of Zika has been detected in the Americas. In February 2014, the public health authorities of Chile confirmed the first case of indigenous transmission of Zika virus infection on Easter Island, and cases were reported until June 2014.
Countries endemic with Dengue and Chikungunya through the Aedes Agypti mosquitoes, are at risk for Zika virus. Based on the fact that if an infected Zika case comes to Sint Maarten, and with the presence of the Aedes Agypti mosquito this virus can be transmitted from person to person similar to the transmission mode as Dengue and Chikungunya.
The main clinical symptoms in patients are fever, conjunctivitis, transient arthritis/arthralgia (mainly in the smaller joints of the hands and feet) and maculo-papular rash (that often starts on the face and then spreads throughout the body).
In general the disease symptoms are mild and short-lasting (2-7 days). There is no vaccine or preventive drug available
To reduce the risk of contracting Zika virus infection – as for the other mosquito-borne infections – travelers should minimize the exposure to mosquito bites by taking the following preventive measures:
- Use of anti-mosquito devices (insecticide-treated bed nets, coils, smudge pots, spray, repellents) and wearing long sleeves and clothes with long legs, especially during the hours of highest mosquito activity (morning and late afternoon). Mosquito repellent based on a 30% DEET concentration is recommended;
- Before using repellents, pregnant women and children under the age of 12 years should consult a physician or pharmacist;
For newborn children under three months, repellents are not recommended; instead, insecticide-treated bed nets should be used.
The community is requested to be on alert for the identified symptoms and to be on high alert and action in eliminating mosquito breeding sites in and around their surroundings.
Be vigilant in eliminating mosquito breeding sites and assist your community by minimizing mosquito breeding sites. CPS advises to empty unused swimming pools and cover them properly; turn over any type of containers (even boats) which can hold water and create a breeding source.
For additional information or concerns, contact CPS at 542-2078 or 542-3003.