CITCO prepares for Zika Epidemic Print E-mail
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Friday, 19 February 2016 00:00

Mayor Darrell Bradley, Councilors and staff of the Belize City Council took part in a sensitization workshop as part of their development of a Zika Preparedness Plan on Wednesday, February 17. Presentations were made by Dr. Javier Zuniga and Mr. Javier Alpuche of the Central Health Region.

The expert consensus is that it is only a matter of time before the Zika virus is officially detected in Belize. Therefore, local governments across the country are developing their strategy to limit its spread in their communities. Dr. Zuniga presented on a background of Zika, the potential public health threat it poses and the epidemiological profile and regional situation.  

In a brief background briefing, Zuniga explained that the Zika Virus has been around for more than 60 years - it is named after the Zika Forest near Lake Victoria in Uganda, where it was first noticed in 1947 from a captive monkey. Since then, it has spread across Africa to Asia, Pacific Polynesia and now the Americas. It is only in the past year that scientists and health experts have become seriously worried about it. A massive outbreak that started last year in Brazil brought it sharply into focus because of emerging links to microcephaly - a congenital disorder that can shrink unborn babies' brains and heads and reduce life expectancy. Since April, the virus has spread quickly. There have been confirmed cases affecting more than a million people so far. Transmission is currently active in at least 30 countries across the Americas, Pacific islands and Cape Verde, while Zika has also appeared in Australia, Ireland and several other European countries after tourists were infected abroad. There is no known cure or vaccine. The virus was believed to be exclusively spread by mosquitoes until authorities in the US reported a  patient had caught it through sexual contact.

Zika is a great public health threat as any other vector borne disease in this hemisphere. The World Health Organization (WHO) has described it as having a potentially "explosive pandemic potential" and the authority has declared a global public health emergency on 1 February. Zika is a mosquito-borne disease that normally has symptoms similar to Dengue and Chikungunya viruses, which are spread by the same mosquito, the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. Only 14 “sporadic” human cases were detected until 2007. Zika has now affected almost 30 countries already, mainly in the Americas. The World Health Organization has said, “Every country in which Aedes mosquitoes are present can be at risk for the spread of Zika virus disease.”

Javier Alpuche presented on the national and district plans and the way forward. The strategy is similar to that of the fight against Dengue and Chikungunya. This means a preemptive attack on the carrier of the disease which is the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. Health officials will be targeting known “hot spots” across the country. This means increased spraying in low lying and swampy areas in every district. The reason why it is difficult for experts to track the Zika virus is because 80 percent of cases are asymptomatic. The other 20 percent experience only mild symptoms and few access medical centers for treatment. Women who are pregnant are encouraged to stay away from areas where cases have been recorded. Congenitive defect of the brain has been linked to children whose mothers were infected with Zika. However, as stated by the Director of Health Services, Dr. Rafael Manzanero, this has not been scientifically proven since over 30,000 cases have been recorded in Columbia with no case of congenital brain defect in babies.

The Belize City Council is taking no chances in its preparedness for Zika. It will launch a city wide cleanup campaign to eliminate breeding sites for the Aedes Aegypti mosquito and work with the Public Health Department to increase spraying across the city.