Saba ramps up its Zika defence

The Department of Health and Department of Vector Control hosted a public information session titled “Zika: what you can do to stop it.”

Growing fears from the World Health Organization and the international community have brought Zika to the front page of every news provider, primarily based on an alarming connection to a neurological birth disorder and the rapid spread of the virus across the globe.

The Zika virus is part of the same family as yellow fever, West Nile virus, chikungunya and dengue and there is currently no vaccine or treatment. Babies are most at risk of microcephaly, a rare neurological disorder with serious longterm physical and mental repercussions. In adults it can cause fever, headache and joint pain, skin rash and conjunctivitis. On average one in four infected people show symptoms which usually appear two to seven days after infection.

Dr. Koen Hulshof of Saba Health Care Foundation addresses the crowd on Zika.

There is also a small risk of more serious complications from Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is very serious and can be life-threatening.

The virus is primarily transmitted by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, but can also be passed through the amniotic fl uid of a pregnant woman to her baby and through sexual contact.

Results of the test for Zika usually take seven to 10 days, usually the same amount of time it takes to recover as well and to no longer be a carrier for the next mosquito that feeds.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is also the carrier of West Nile, chikungunya and dengue, so eradicating their population on Saba is deemed a top priority.

At this time neither Zika, West Nile virus, chikungunya or dengue exist on Saba. It is important to keep it that way, said Dr. Koen Hulshof of Saba Health Care Foundation (SHCF) on Thursday.

The Vector Control Department has been vigilantly attacking mosquito breeding areas and educating the public to assist Vector Control by eradicating mosquito breeding opportunities.

The cycle from egg to mosquito takes approximately seven days. Any standing water in buckets, tires, overturned chairs, unprotected cisterns, or any in which even a tiny amount of water can gather must be removed. Pet bowls should be changed with fresh water daily and any water used for rooting plants or any other source should be changed a couple of times a week.

Vector control has been frustrated as some people have not taken this problem seriously and there are a number of repeat offenders who have been spoken to on numerous occasions. Those repeat offenders will soon be receiving warning letters from the Government which will be followed by fi nes if they do not heed the warnings.

Saba Health has been exploring all options and keeping a close eye on the international war on Zika. “All currently available means of mosquito control are being used,” Hulshof said.

He addressed a question on the genetically modifi ed “Frankenstein mosquito” created by British biotech company Oxitec, who are currently awaiting the green light from the (Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to mass produce and distribute the insects to infected regions.

The genetically modifi ed mosquito is a male mosquito with a built in gene that kills its own offspring. Since 2012, Oxitec has used mutants in several residential neighbourhoods, and after releasing 3.3 million of them in the Cayman Islands, more than 96 per cent of the native mosquitos were suppressed, the company said. The plan achieved similar success in a town in Brazil as well.

Hulshof said Saba is interested in the project but must wait for the CDC and FDA to certify the modifi ed mosquito is safe for the public before it can be considered for use. The cost of introducing Oxitec’s modifi ed mosquitos on Saba would be over US $500,000.

However, fortunately Vector control is working tirelessly and guppies, who eat mosquito larvae for breakfast, lunch and dinner are just a phone call away at tel. 416-3229.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is a poor fl yer and windy days will reduce the chance of being bitten as will fans circulating the air in homes. Regardless, long-sleeved shirts and pants, as well as good quality mosquito repellent are also advised.

The Zika initiative is a joint project by SHCF, Vector Control, the Red Cross and Saba University School of Medicine.

In a strong closing message, Jerry Hassell of Vector Control urged everyone to “Dump and monitor your standing water, wear your bug spray, protect yourselves and your community.”

The Daily Herald.

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