Zika Virus Alert!

Image: Chief Medical Officer, Merlene Fredericks

Pregnant Women Especially, Beware!

Image: Chief Medical Officer, Merlene Fredericks
Chief Medical Officer, Merlene Fredericks

THEAedesaegypti Mosquito is at it again, this time with another illness that health authorities here are alerting Saint Lucians about. It’s the Zika virus that pregnant women, especially, should guard against.

“We would like to give a special warning to pregnant mothers. Mosquitoes actually prefer pregnant mothers. When someone is pregnant the body temperature increases and that’s one of the things that attracts mosquitoes,” Chief Medical Officer, Merlene Fredericks said.

This is the third disease this mosquito has been associated with, the first two being Dengue and Chikungunya.

However unlike the first two, Zika has yet to touch down in Saint Lucia. But this is not preventing the Ministry of Health from going on full alert to combat it should it set foot here.

“Up to this point in time we have not confirmed the Zika Virus on island but we have heard from CARPHA (Caribbean Health Public Agency) that it has been confirmed in one Caribbean country,” Fredericks said.

The Zika disease must be carefully monitored or else it could very well be mistaken for either Chikungunya or Dengue Fever in that its symptoms are very similar to those seen when Dengue or Chikungunya is attacking someone.

The disease is also spread in the same manner as the other two hence the warning from the Ministry which has increased its surveillance and testing procedures for the virus.

Unlike the other two diseases from the AedesAegypti mosquito, Zika has a unique quality which makes it discernible in an infected person. With Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya an infected person may develop symptoms like fever, muscle or joint pain, even a rash. Zika goes a step further in that in some cases it causes redness of the eyes.

It causes a mild illness, according to Fredericks, who claimed that if five persons are infected with the disease only one of the five may experience the symptoms while the remaining four may show no signs of the symptoms or even know they have the disease.

With regard to the mosquito’s proclivity for pregnant women, Fredericks said that in Brazil and other countries experiencing the Zika outbreak, the observation is that in pregnant women there have been increased incidents of a congenital abnormality called microcephaly.

“In some cases if a pregnant mother gets infected with the Zika Virus early in her pregnancy, during the time the baby is developing in the womb, the baby can actually have an abnormality where the head is smaller than it should be. They have also realized in countries with an ongoing epidemic that although most of the cases are mild and many persons who have it don’t even know they have it, in a few instances, a person can develop what is called GuillainBarre Syndrome which is a temporary weakening and sort of paralysis of the muscles which can be mild or severe and most times persons would have to be treated in a hospital,” Fredericks said.

As has happened in the past, when one Caribbean country attracts a disease it’s simply a matter of time before it spreads to other Caribbean countries. Fredericks thinks this could very well happen with the Zika Virus and although there are no known cases of it in Saint Lucia at this time the Ministry is not letting up in its testing of people coming into health facilities complaining of joint or muscle pains.

“To date we have noticed no abnormal trend. We are actually below the normal level that we see for these sorts of illnesses, what we call differentiated fever, Dengue, Chikungunya, so we are actually at a very low level right now. We are doing random testing of certain samples when persons come in with fever and joint pain, even if we believe its dengue or chikungunya. We are also taking some samples to send to CARPHA to ask them to check for the Zika Virus as well,” Fredericks said.

The Chief Medical Officer called on Saint Lucians to use the same method of elimination of the mosquito they used in the past when they were fighting the Dengue Fever and Chikungunya to ensure that they do not contract the Zika Virus.

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