GREAT BAY, Sint Maarten (DCOMM) – There is growing evidence that babies born with neurological syndromes and congenital anomalies may be linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus infection.
Zika can cause meningitis, meningoencephalitis and myelitis, as described in the French Polynesia outbreak of 2013-2014. According to Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in the Region of the Americas, such syndromes have not been reported so far.
The Collective Preventive Services (CPS), a government department under the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour, said on Thursday that pregnant women should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
Pregnant women have the same risk as the rest of the population of being infected with Zika virus, which is transmitted by the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes. Many women may remain unaware they have the virus, as they may not develop any symptoms. Only one in four people infected with Zika develops symptoms, and in those with symptoms the illness is usually mild.
The most common symptoms are slight fever and exantema, or rash. Zika also can cause conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and general malaise, which begins two to seven days after the bite of an infected mosquito.
Research is being done to determine what effects Zika can have on fetuses. On 28 November 2015, the Ministry of Health of Brazil established a relationship between an increase in cases of microcephaly in new-borns and Zika virus infections in the country’s northeast.
According to a preliminary analysis of research carried out by Brazilian authorities, the greatest risk of microcephaly and malformations appears to be associated with infection during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Health authorities, with support from PAHO and other agencies, are conducting research to clarify the cause, risk factors, and consequences of microcephaly.
Everyone, including pregnant women and women of childbearing age, should avoid exposure to mosquito bites, for example, by wearing long sleeves and long pants, using insecticide-treated mosquito nets and using insect repellents indicated by health authorities and according to the instructions on the label. In every home and its surroundings, it is very important to identify and eliminate potential mosquito breeding sites.
Currently information on transmission from mothers to babies during pregnancy or childbirth is very limited. Perinatal transmission has been reported with other mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue and chikungunya.
Research is currently under way on possible mother-to-child transmission of the virus and its effects on babies. Pregnant women in general, and particularly those who develop symptoms of Zika virus infection, should be closely monitored by health providers.
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, chickungunya, West-Nile and Japanese encephalitis viruses but produces a comparatively mild disease in humans.
At the moment for Sint Maarten, no confirmed cases have been reported. CPS already has a working arrangement with St. Maarten Laboratory Services (SLS) where it concerns the collection of samples for investigation that would then be sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for further detail analysis.
An increase in the mosquito population puts residents and visitors at risk. For information about dengue fever, zika and chikungunya prevention measures, you can call CPS 542-2078 or 542-3003.