Councillor for Health Roy McTaggart says barring bad weather this Thursday all systems are a go for the release of genetically modified mosquitoes aimed at combating the spread of the Zika virus and controlling its carrier the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Mr McTaggart, speaking with The Cayman Reporter on Monday afternoon (11 July) ahead of the operational roll out of the mosquito control technique, said the GM mosquitoes are the “best defense we have against the Zika virus” and the goal “is to stop the spread of it once it comes in and that means controlling the vector.”
Last week the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) announced operations are scheduled to begin on Thursday, 14 July or soon after that, in West Bay for the release of the mosquitoes.
“All systems are go for the release of the mosquitoes on either Thursday or Friday. Dr Bill Petrie ( MRCU Director) has indicated to me that it (the release) would subject to weather and barring any unforeseen or significant changes in the weather like a storm or something the plan is to release them Thursday or Friday,” Mr McTaggart said.
Cayman has already recorded two confirmed cases of Zika which were imported by returning residents both of whom contracted the virus while abroad. At least six blood samples have been sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad for Zika testing. Those results are still pending. The virus has also been sexually transmitted and has been linked to microcephaly – which is an abnormal smallness of the head and a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development.
The GM mosquito release, which is a proactive measure intended to get ahead of any potential outbreak in the Cayman Islands, is a collaboration between the MRCU and biotechnology company Oxitec. They are releasing the mosquitoes as a preventative measure to control the mosquito responsible for the transmission of Zika and other viruses.
The technique uses genetically engineered, non-biting sterile males to mate with local female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which then have offspring that die before reaching adulthood.
Mr McTaggart explained that the programme will be conducted over the next nine months and “calls for the release in West Bay only.”
“Once this programme is done and over with we will evaluate the success of it and then make some decisions thereafter as to the future of the programme,” the Councillor for Health said.
Since Premier and Health Minister Hon Alden McLaughlin’s announcement of the collaboration between the MRCU and Oxitech there have been concerns raised about the safety of the method and the impact it would have on humans.
However Mr McTaggart said the programme Cayman is about to embark upon is one that has been tried and looked at by the World Health Organisation and “is one that they have endorsed as an effective means of dealing with the Zika Virus and with the spread of the Aedes aegypti.”
He assured, as has been pointed out on numerous occasions by the MRCU, that there is no need for fear.
“We believe that the scientific evidence that has been proffered to date that there is very little to no risk to human health or well being as a result of this and it is on that basis that we are proceeding with the programme,” Mr McTaggart said.
The Councillor for Health urged citizens who may have still have concerns or fears to call the MRCU and speak to Dr Petrie or staff at the MRCU with the knowledge of the situation and “seek to gain whatever comfort or reassurance that they need.”
Mr McTaggart pointed out that the MRCU has visited the homes of the two individuals infected with Zika and treated the areas.
He explained that the virus is difficult to detect when being brought into the country simply because 75 per cent of people do not present with any symptoms and “we cannot do any border detection. You essentially have to test everybody coming through and it sounds ridiculous, but essentially that is what it means.”
Mr McTaggart assured that the hospital has a very well established programme for screening of persons who present themselves with symptoms.
“Once the symptoms are detected and it is determined, they take blood samples and they are sent to the regional lab in Trinidad where they are tested and the results are confirmed or disproved. There is that programme in place and that is how we know of these two cases,” he said.
Symptoms of the Zika Virus
The symptoms of the Zika virus are very similar to that of dengue and chikungunya; they include fever, muscle and joint pain, conjunctivitis, headache, nausea, and rash. There is no vaccine or treatment; however, symptoms (which last approximately four to seven days) are treatable.
To relieve fever and pain associated with the virus, it is recommended that persons drink lots of fluids and take pain relievers such as Paracetamol. Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) should be avoided to reduce the risk of haemorrhage. Residents are also reminded that the infection may present itself as asymptomatic (showing no symptoms).
Symptoms usually appear following an incubation period of three to 12 days after the bite of an infected mosquito, lasting between four to seven days, and are self-limiting. Complications of the infection requiring hospitalisation are rare.