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We don’t need Zika to get here to start taking precautions – Dr Adams

We don’t need Zika to get here to start taking precautions – Dr Adams

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A local epidemiologist is advising persons – especially pregnant women – to start taking precautions against contracting the Zika virus (and other mosquito-transmitted diseases), even though there have been no cases of the disease recorded in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Speaking with SEARCHLIGHT last Wednesday, Dr Rosmond Adams said that employing precautionary measures as soon as possible{{more}} would lower the chances that if Zika were to reach our shores, it would cause an outbreak on the same level as Chikungunya did in 2014/15.

“We don’t have to wait for us to start suspecting cases… It is important that we continue with the preventative measures that we have had in place for Chik-V… and for dengue. It is important that

mosquito control is the keyword… that we reduce breeding places for mosquitoes,” insisted Dr Adams.

As with Chikungunya, the Vincentian public is a ‘naïve population’ – which means that persons have never been exposed to this disease, therefore, have no immunity against it.

“Once this virus comes… there is a potential of it spreading.”

With medical officials in Brazil speculating that there is a link between Zika and microcephaly (a congenial brain defect) in babies whose mothers contracted the virus during pregnancy, Dr Adams said that he is reticent to advise women to delay pregnancy for six months to a year, until the threat has passed – something which Jamaican health officials have recently done.

“I do not think, personally, that that is reasonable, because we cannot delay people’s pregnancy… reproductive health has been something that people are free to do what they want to do.”

He said that more effective advice is to urge persons to weigh up the perceived benefits in delaying or not, and make informed choices.

Noting that it cannot be predicted when the virus may manifest locally, Dr Adams said: “So, if we put out there and say six months [delay], what happens if we don’t have an outbreak within six months? Then you will blame us. If then we say wait six months to a year, and then the outbreak happens after that, and you decide to get pregnant at that time, we will also be held responsible.”

He pointed out that in countries where Zika has been common (parts of Africa and Asia) since its discovery in the 1940s (in Uganda), there have been a few reported cases of microcephaly in babies.

In Brazil, however, the staggering increases in microcephaly cases is being thought to be linked to the Zika virus, but as this development is new, the evidence to confirm such is lacking.

“When we look at this from an epidemiological perspective, we cannot say yet that the cases of microcephaly are directly linked to the Zika virus… Two things are happening at the same time, but one cannot explain the other yet… We have to do further epidemiological analysis, such as case studies and long cohort studies.”

Dr Adams did, however, emphasize that in the absence of tangible evidence to prove or disprove the link between the neurological disorder and the disease, health care agencies across the globe are advising pregnant women (and those wishing to become pregnant) to take precautions to safeguard themselves and their babies.

“Be the advocate of a clean environment; protect yourself personally, and make sure to continue with your antenatal visits to your clinic… in order to see if the foetus is growing properly.”

He warned that if any person experiences any of the symptoms, it is advisable that he or she seeks immediate medical attention to ascertain what the cause is, instead of ignoring the symptoms in the belief that they will go away.

Symptoms of the Zika virus include fever, swelling of the lower extremities, muscle/joint pain, headache, nausea, rash and conjunctivitis; and in most cases seem to present with mild signs.

Dr Adams warned that it cannot be predicted if or when Zika will reach SVG.

“We don’t know when it will come, considering people travel every day throughout the region… Like with most diseases, one cannot predict when someone will come into your country and bring diseases into the country. So, what is important for us to do is to put measures in place in the event that it comes; that we are able to detect it as soon as possible.”

He also said that should any cases be suspected locally, the public will be notified immediately.

“Our mechanism will go into full force; we will inform the public that we have suspected cases, because if we are suspecting it, then it’s important to let people know, so they can start putting precautionary measures in place.”

Dr Adams noted that even though the Ministry will continue to conduct its mosquito fogging exercises, this alone cannot be relied on as a preventative measure, because fogging only kills adult mosquitoes.

“Mosquitoes hatch frequently in large numbers. So, if we kill one adult mosquito, it would have laid lots of eggs, and the population will continue to increase still.

The epidemiologist also placed great emphasis on personal protection, that is, wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts, hats, using repellents, and sleeping either in an air-conditioned room or under a mosquito net.

In addition to this, the public is being urged to eliminate breeding places for mosquitoes – anywhere that accumulates or stores stagnant water. This includes refuse, gutters, roofing, sceptic tanks with cracks, flower pots, dish drainers in kitchens, garden tools (such as wheelbarrows) left in the open, and showers/baths, amongst others.

Last Wednesday, the Ministry of Health hosted a meeting of technical heads within the Ministry, as well as obstetricians, pediatricians and community health professionals, to assess the threat of Zika to the public.

The Ministry is currently optmizing its public health functions and services, which include robust vector and disease surveillance and premises inspection, mosquito eradication and control measures.

The Zika virus is transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, and was first isolated in the remote Zika Forest of Uganda in 1947.

Cases of the disease have been reported throughout the region, including Puerto Rico, Haiti, Martinique, Barbados, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and Trinidad. (JSV)

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