A collective sigh of relief was breathed at Cayman’s Public Health Department on Thursday (18 August) as the pregnant woman tested for the Zika virus was found to be disease-free.
However the Public Health Department confirmed, through a media statement on Thursday, that another female patient tested positive for Zika making her this country’s third locally transmitted case of the mosquito-borne disease.
Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, in response to queries from The Cayman Reporter on Thursday, confirmed that the pregnant woman’s test results had been received and she was Zika free.
“This patient (the locally transmitted case), is not the pregnant woman. The results for the pregnant woman are back and they are negative for Zika virus, Dengue and Chikungunya,” Dr Williams-Rodriguez said.
Dr Williams-Rodriguez, commenting on the negative result, said the Public Health Department was pleased by the fact that the results for this patient came back negative.
“I am aware of the complications (uncommon but serious) associated with Zika virus infection and pregnancy, especially in the first and second trimesters,” he added.
The acting Medical Officer of Health said the department continues to send samples of suspected cases to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
“We are receiving reports of suspected cases from physicians at the hospital and private clinics daily. For patients meeting the criteria for testing and with no travel history their sample will be sent to CARPHA,” he stressed.
However Dr Williams-Rodriguez indicated that all pregnant women with symptoms suggestive of Zika virus disease (despite their travel history) will be tested for Zika virus, dengue and chikungunya.
Those tests, he said, will be free of charge for the patient, “as well as any patient with neurological manifestations associated with Zika virus (e.g. Guillain-Barre syndrome).”
Special monitoring and medical emphasis has been put in place globally for pregnant women in the face of the rising Zika epidemic after fetuses of pregnant Zika patients were found to be at a higher risk of developing microcephaly, which causes babies to develop smaller than average heads.
Just this week a New York woman, who contracted Zika, gave birth to a baby with microcephaly, according to the reports out of the US.
Similarly, Canada recorded its first microcephaly birth last week when a Canadian woman with Zika gave birth to a baby with the Zika-related defect. There are many problems associated with microcephaly such as developmental delays; problems with vision, hearing, or speech; and epilepsy. Guillain-Barre syndrome has also been linked to Zika as well.
As Cayman records its third locally transmitted Zika case in two weeks the Public Health Department indicated that it will only test persons who have no travel history to countries with outbreaks of the mosquito-borne disease.
Dr Williams-Rodriguez announced the third locally transmitted case on Thursday, as he confirmed that female patient, a local resident of George Town, tested positive for Zika.
The patient, he said through a media statement, has no reported travel history to any of the countries where there is currently an outbreak of the Zika virus.
“It is therefore concluded that this case has been locally transmitted, bringing cases of local transmission of the Zika virus within the Cayman Islands to three and six imported cases,” Dr. Williams-Rodriguez said in the statement.
He pointed out that since the last update on Tuesday 9 August eight additional results have been received from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and of those, seven returned negative for Zika virus and one result was positive that of the female patient.
Dr. Williams-Rodriguez pointed out that the World Health Organization is advising that in geographical areas where local circulation of the Zika virus is already established, “it is recommended that a fraction of all suspected cases detected during each week (ideally 10 per cent) be confirmed by laboratory tests.”
As such, the statement said, “effective 15 August 2016, the Cayman Islands will only test persons for the Zika virus who have no travel history to countries with outbreaks.”
Public Health Department, with the cooperation of the Cayman Islands Airport Authority (CIAA), has also increased its community education on the Zika virus, the statement said, as banners are being installed at the arrival and departure areas of the Owen Roberts International Airport, and the check-in hall at the Charles Kirkconnell International Airport in Cayman Brac.
The banners, the statement said, advises residents what measures they can take to prevent being bitten by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes during travel overseas.
“A frequently asked questions document and fact sheet is also being updated and will be circulated across the three Islands, made accessible on the Department of Public Health page on the Health Services Authority website www.hsa.ky,” the statement added.
All practicing physicians, both public and private, the statement said, have received guidance on Zika testing for pregnant women, as per the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) guidelines.
Director of the Mosquito Research Control Unit (MRCU), Dr. William Petrie, in the statement, said the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) continues to communicate with the Public Health Department to ensure a proactive approach is taken.
“The MRCU is currently carrying out additional mosquito control operations in the George Town area due to the fact that all three locally transmitted cases have been confirmed in that area,” he said in the statement.
Dr. Petrie reminded that residents should check their premises regularly and remove water in buckets, plant pot saucers, discarded tyres etc., as these are the favoured breeding sites of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
What is the Zika virus?
Zika disease is caused by a virus transmitted primarily by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. People with Zika virus disease can have symptoms including mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days.
There is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly, a birth defect that may cause unusually small heads and brain damage in newborns, as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder that could lead to paralysis and death. Links to other neurological complications are also being investigated.
Symptoms of Zika Virus
Zika virus usually causes mild illness. Symptoms most commonly include a slight fever or rash, appearing a few days after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito. Although many will not develop any symptoms at all, others may also suffer from conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and feel tired.
There is no known difference in the symptoms of infected pregnant and non-pregnant women.
Source: World Health Organization (WHO)