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Ministry of Health steps up surveillance against Zika virus

Ministry of Health steps up surveillance against Zika virus

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The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment has increased surveillance in the light of increased reports of Zika in several neighbouring regional territories, and is also calling on persons to play their role in their shared responsibility by taking care of their immediate environment and also every precaution to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

According to a release from the Pan American Health {{more}}Organisation, Zika is said to be a mosquito-borne virus that is new to the Americas. The release states that since Brazil reported the first cases of local transmission of the virus in May 2015, it has spread to 21 countries and territories of the Americas (as of 23 January 2016).

There are two main reasons for the rapid spread of the virus: (1) the population of the Americas had not previously been exposed to Zika and, therefore, lacks immunity, and (2) aedes mosquitoes – the main vector for Zika transmission – are present in all the region’s countries, except Canada and continental Chile.

PAHO anticipates that the Zika virus will continue to spread and will likely reach all countries and territories of the region where aedes aegypti mosquitoes are found.

The most effective forms of prevention are: (1) reducing mosquito populations by eliminating their potential breeding sites, especially containers and other items (such as discarded tires) that can collect water in and around households (2) using personal protection measures to prevent mosquito bites (see also recommendations below).

The release further states that the role of the aedes aegypti mosquito in transmitting Zika is documented and well understood, while evidence about other transmission routes is limited. Zika has been isolated in human semen, and one case of possible person-to-person sexual transmission has been described. However, more evidence is needed to confirm whether sexual contact is a means of Zika transmission.

Zika can be transmitted through blood, but this an infrequent mechanism. Standard precautions that are already in place for ensuring safe blood donations and transfusions should be followed. Evidence of mother-to-child transmission of Zika during pregnancy or childbirth is also limited. Research is currently under way to generate more evidence regarding perinatal transmission and to better understand how the virus affects babies.

There is currently no evidence that Zika can be transmitted to babies through breast milk. Mothers in areas with Zika circulation should follow PAHO/WHO recommendations on breastfeeding (exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, followed by continued breastfeeding with complementary foods up to two years or beyond).

The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment is encouraging the public to inspect their homes and yards weekly, and also to eliminate potential mosquito breeding sites indoors and outdoors, by keeping water drums and barrels tightly covered, and throwing out stagnant water from flower vases, old tyres, and other containers that might act as breeding sites.

The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment is also reminding all persons, especially women who are pregnant, to protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeved clothing or long pants, using insect repellents, and sleeping under mosquito nets. It is also important to destroy all breeding sites for mosquitoes in and around the home.

The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment will participate in a virtual meeting of ministers of health, chief medical officers and other stakeholders today, January 26, to address further issues surrounding Zika in the OECS subregion.

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