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What You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

Zika is a new mosquito-borne virus to the Caribbean, and as such public health authorities in the region are closely monitoring its development. Currently, cases of the Zika virus are being reported in many countries, including Barbados.

In mid-January 2016, Barbados recorded its first official cases of locally-acquired Zika virus. According to the Barbados Ministry of Health, three blood samples sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) (https://www.facebook.com/carpha1), tested positive for the virus.

Note: Pregnant women should be particularly cautious about exposure to Zika.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (http://www.cdc.gov/zika) reported that in May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) (http://www.paho.org/hq) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil. Prior to 2015, it is reported that Zika virus outbreaks had also occurred in areas of Africa, South-east Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

As such, many governments have issued travel warnings for countries where Zika has been confirmed, and some airlines and cruise liners are even waiving cancellation fees for travellers who decide not to travel to ‘Zika-affected’ areas. However, Barbados Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy has stressed that thus far Barbados’ tourism has not been negatively impacted.

The Barbados Ministry of Tourism (http://www.gov.bb/index.php?id=128) is working very closely with the Barbados Ministry of Health (http://health.gov.bb/), in collaboration with other relevant local and regional agencies, to minimise the effect of the Zika virus to both tourists and locals.

As the region has already experienced similar tropical illnesses such as Dengue and Chikungunya, previous measures used in these cases put the region at an advantage to combat the Zika virus. Click on the following CARPHA links for a more in-depth look at the Caribbean perspective on the Zika virus (http://carpha.org/Portals/0/docs/ZIKA/Zika%20Virus_Regional%20Perspective.pdf) and about how CARPHA is addressing the impact of Zika on Caribbean tourism (http://carpha.org/Portals/0/docs/ZIKA/Zika%20Virus_Tourism.pdf).

 

What is Zika?

The Zika virus (ZIKV) is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito from the Aedes genus type of mosquito, in particular the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus species found in tropical climates; the same type of mosquito which transmits Dengue Fever, Chikungunya, and Yellow Fever.

Note: According to CARPHA, so far research indicates that it cannot be transmitted person to person by close or casual contact, or through the air, food or water.

 

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of the Zika virus are generally mild, and are similar to those of Dengue and Chikungunya, lasting between two and seven days.

The most common symptoms are a mild fever and skin rash, usually accompanied by conjunctivitis, muscle or joint pain/temporary arthritis, and general feeling of illness that begins between two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

 

Pregnancy and Zika

The World Health Organisation (WHO) (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/) states that local health authorities in north-east Brazil have observed an increase in babies with birth defects correlating with an increase in Zika virus infections in the general public in that region.

Preliminary research suggests a link between these birth defects such as ‘microcephaly’ (where a baby’s head is smaller than expected) and exposure to Zika in the womb. The causes, risk factors and consequences of ‘microcephaly’ are still being explored, but there is an increasing body of evidence to suggest a link to the Zika virus.

 

Treatment

There are currently no vaccines or preventive drugs for Zika. Instead, treatment is directed at alleviating symptoms, including getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, and treating pain and fever with common pain-relief drugs.

Note: If symptoms worsen, seek medical advice.

 

Preventative Measures

According to WHO (http://www.who.int/csr/don/20-january-2016-zika-guyana-barbados-ecuador/en/), the best way to prevent Zika infection is to protect yourself against mosquito bites and take preventative measures to reduce mosquito breeding, including removing possible breeding sites like collections of stagnant water in buckets or containers.

Barbados is a tropical climate and basic precautions against mosquito bites should always be taken.

Given that the presence of Zika on the island has now been confirmed, anyone travelling to Barbados (especially pregnant women) is advised to take note of the information set out in CARPHA’s Zika Guidelines for Travellers coming to the Caribbean (http://carpha.org/Portals/0/docs/ZIKA/ZIKA-GUIDELINES-FOR-TRAVELLERS.pdf) and the basic precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites including:

— Using mosquito repellent with 30% DEET concentration
— Wearing light coloured long-sleeved shirts and pants, especially in the morning and late afternoon
— Sleeping under an insecticide-treated ‘bed net’ (mosquito net), especially during the day
— Ensure accommodation has insect screens on windows and doors.

 

What’s being done about Zika in the Caribbean?

CARPHA, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) (http://www.onecaribbean.org), and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) (http://www.caribbeanhotelassociation.com) are all working in conjunction with public health authorities in the Caribbean to mitigate the impact of the Zika virus.

At the end of January 2016, the CTO and CHTA issued a joint press release (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5SMN7hmRwhzMU14SG9ReWRDQ1E/view?pref=2&pli=1) in relation to Zika and have assured the public they are in close contact with CARPHA to monitor the virus’ development, as well as to communicate prevention and control measures to the tourism industry, local residents and travellers.

The Caribbean nations (including Barbados), and their national tourism associations and hotels, are taking proactive measures to control the local mosquito population, similar to those used in the past to combat Dengue Fever and Chikungunya, including:

— Providing staff and guests with general information on ZIKV
— Placing insect repellents rooms, or having them available for purchase
— Avoiding storing water in outdoor containers, covering water tanks or reservoirs, uncovering or unblocking gutters and drains, and monitoring garbage build up, to prevent them from becoming mosquito breeding sites
— Installing mosquito screening on windows and doors
— Supplying guests with ‘bed nets’.

In another joint statement (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5SMN7hmRwhzdlp1NWdBbm9Vcm8/view?pref=2&pli=1) by the CTO and CHTA, they have also provided CARPHA’s Zika Guidelines for Hotels and Guest houses (http://carpha.org/Portals/0/docs/ZIKA/ZIKA-GUIDELINES-FOR-HOTELS.pdf).

As the sole public health agency for the Caribbean, CARPHA is taking a holistic aggressive approach to travel-related Zika through prevention and control that includes the following:

— Updated guidelines for Zika prevention in travellers and in hotels/guest houses
— Public awareness campaign for the tourism industry
— Agreement with CTO and CHTA to embark on a joint enhanced vector control program in hotels
— Joint and ongoing discussions with CDC Traveller’s Health and other international agencies regarding travel advisories, Zika prevention, its risk and impact on tourism
— Teleconferences/webinars with hotel, cruise ship industry and Ministries of Health in relation to joint public health action
— Sharing important Zika information via an established network of public health agencies.

 

More Information

For more information for travellers looking to come to Barbados, please continue to monitor the relevant health agency websites, as well as your countries own travel advisories.

 

Related Articles

— : Zika: the disease: http://carpha.org/Portals/0/docs/ZIKA/Zika-the%20disease.pdf

— Ethical issues: Zika virus in the Caribbean: http://carpha.org/Portals/0/docs/ZIKA/Zika%20Virus_Ethical%20Issues.pdf

— Zika – Strengthening Health Sector response: http://carpha.org/Portals/0/docs/ZIKA/Zika%20Virus_Surveillance.pdf

— CARPHA Zeros in on Zika (video): https://youtu.be/ZPcbheYcWew