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REGION ON ZIKA ALERT

Image of PAHO Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne

PAHO: Virus will Spread Where Aedes Aegypti Mosquitoes Are Found.

Image of PAHO Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne
PAHO Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne

THERE is a region wide alert for the mosquito borne Zika virus with Saint Lucia being among countries warning its citizens about the dangers it poses.

But despite the absence of a definite statement from health officials here in following Trinidad and Tobago which has had no cases of the virus yet has declared a national public health emergency, health personnel from the Ministry of Health have been calling on Saint Lucians to do their part in keeping the virus out of the country.

There is a house to house campaign going on in the Vieux Fort North Constituency alerting residents about the effects of the virus and what they can do to prevent it taking root in Saint Lucia.

The stance Saint Lucia is taking to spread knowledge of the virus among its citizens is being copied in other countries in the region since the virus has now spread across more than 20 countries in the Americas.

Health personnel here are on the talk show circuit talking about the virus. The same goes on in organisations like the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and World Health Organization (WHO).

PAHO has already warned that the virus will continue to spread and reach all countries of the region where the Aedesaegypti mosquitoes are found.

According to PAHO the virus, which is carried by the Aedesaegypti mosquito, has already been confirmed in 21 countries. The organization notes that the virus, which is new to the Americas, had its first cases of local transmission in May of last year in Brazil and has now spread to Barbados, Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominica Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname and Venezuela.

“There are two main reasons for the virus’s rapid spread: the population of the Americas had not previously been exposed to Zika and therefore lacks immunity, and Aedes mosquitoes, the main vector for Zika transmission, are present in all the region’s countries except Canada and continental Chile,” the organization said in a statement last week.

PAHO director and WHO regional director called for deepening collaboration and the sharing of experiences across the region.

“We must all work together to prevent the further spread of this potentially debilitating disease. Although we are still working to establish causality with Zika, we cannot tolerate the prospect of more babies being born with neurological and other malformations, and more people facing the threat of paralysis due to Guillain–Barré syndrome,” Dr. Carissa Etienne said.

Experts from both PAHO and WHO have explained that reliable case counts of Zika virus infection were difficult to obtain for several reasons: only around one in four infected people develop symptoms; the virus is only detectable for a few days in infected people’s blood; tests for antibodies—which can be detected for a much longer period after infection—cannot distinguish well between Zika and infections with similar viruses such as dengue and chikungunya; and clinicians face major challenges in distinguishing Zika cases from cases of diseases such as dengue and chikungunya, which have similar symptoms.

A statement on the PAHO website notes that although Zika infections typically cause only mild symptoms, concerns have been heightened by Brazil’s reports of an unusual increase in microcephaly—unusually small head size–in babies born in areas where the virus is circulating. Since October, Brazil has reported more than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly in areas with Zika circulation. Other complications are also suspected of being linked to the virus, including Guillain–Barré syndrome, an autoimmune syndrome.

“Many unanswered questions remain about the links between Zika virus disease, microcephaly and Guillain–Barré syndrome,” noted Etienne.

“Although we are still working to establish causality with Zika, we cannot tolerate the prospect of more babies being born with neurological and other malformations, and more people facing the threat of paralysis due to Guillain–Barré syndrome. We must all work together to prevent the further spread of this potentially debilitating disease,” she added.

Micah George is an established name in the journalism landscape in St. Lucia. He started his journalism tutelage under the critical eye of the Star Newspaper Publisher and well known journalist, Rick Wayne, as a freelancer. A few months later he moved to the Voice Newspaper under the guidance of the paper’s recognized editor, Guy Ellis in 1988.

Since then he has remained with the Voice Newspaper, progressing from a cub reporter covering court cases and the police to a senior journalist with a focus on parliamentary issues, government and politics. Read full bio...

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