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Let’s put the experience gained from Chikungunya to work with Zika


Hopefully, the experience of the residents of St Vincent and the Grenadines with the Chikungunya virus about 18 months ago was so traumatic that everyone has begun to take precautions, now that Zika is on our doorsteps.

Admittedly, when Chikungunya made its unwelcome arrival in 2014, most of us, we daresay, even health officials, were inadequately prepared; hence our responses were too little, too late. What resulted was a veritable epidemic {{more}}among the population and an historic number of sickness benefit claims being filed with the National Insurance Services (NIS). According to information received from the NIS, for the six weeks between August 1 and September 15, 2014, eight hundred and eighty-two (882) sickness benefit claims costing a total of over $225,000 were filed.

The presence of the Chikungunya virus was first confirmed in St Vincent and the Grenadines in April, 2014, when three persons on the Grenadine island of Bequia were diagnosed. By the end of the year, thousands of people had come down with the illness, whose after-effects we learned painfully, lasted months after the acute phase of the illness had passed.

Now we are hearing about Zika, which, like Chikungunya, is a viral disease transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected aedes aegypti mosquito. We are told that most of time, the symptoms of Zika are much milder than Chikungunya or Dengue, but news reports from Brazil and other areas where Zika is already present indicate that it may, in rare cases, cause severe paralysis and brain damage in unborn babies.

As was the case with Chikungunya, it is expected that when Zika gets here, many people will be affected because we had not previously been exposed and we are still experiencing quite a bit of rain.

Our experience with Chikungunya should therefore propel us into action, so that we minimize our chances of falling ill. But our efforts to ensure that our surroundings do not provide safe harbour for the vector, the aedes aegypti mosquito, are only as good as our neighbour’s. This is why the community response and that of each citizen of our state is so important, for it is only with the cooperation of the public that we will keep the spread of Zika to a minimum.

Acting responsibly means that we should implement vector control measures at the individual and community levels, such as keeping water drums and tanks covered, getting rid of unused tires and other containers, and keeping the general surroundings clean. We should also avoid excessive exposure of our skin by wearing long-sleeved tops, long trousers and skirts and use insect repellents to avoid mosquito bites.

Let’s put the experience gained from Chikungunya to work with Zika and do the right thing.