The news regarding the Zika virus is being updated all the time. Underlying the updates is an acute awareness of how much is not yet known about the virus and its effects, how much there is still to learn. Almost on a daily basis, new information about the virus’ spread is reported. In this post, I’ll touch on a few of these updates.
Jamaica: 7 weeks after 1st confirmed case of Zika, 4 new cases confirmed
Up until Thursday, March 17, 2016, Jamaica had one confirmed case of Zika virus, a case which had been confirmed on January 29. The 4-year-old child had started to show symptoms on January 17. This was the first confirmed case and remained the only confirmed case for the following 7 weeks.
As I was driving to a Technical Update on Zika, Gillain-Barre & Microcephaly being held on the evening of March 17 at the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona, this was the foremost question in my mind: Why hadn’t there been any further cases of Zika reported? I wondered what explanations the experts might have for this.
The Technical Update was a collaboration by UWI, the Ministry of Health and PAHO/WHO. A PAHO/WHO technical team was in Jamaica for consultations and the opportunity was seized to have an update which was open to the public.
Dr Winston De La Haye, Chief Medical Officer, was chairing the proceedings and after the opening remarks, the first presentation began. Dr Stephane Hugonnet of WHO presented on Zika and arbovirus surveillance, microcephaly and other neurological disorders – recent evidence & implications for health systems.
At the end of his update regarding the global situation, Dr Hugonnet made some comments about the situation regarding the Zika virus in Jamaica. He said that for Jamaica, the epidemic curve of about 95 suspected cases showed a sharp increase, with a peak in week 5, which corresponded with the week in which there was the first confirmed case at the end of January. This was then followed by a decrease in suspected cases.
Dr Hugonnet said it was very surprising that there hadn’t been any other cases and it was hard to understand having only one case. He said that the surveillance system was working well, and there were suspected cases of dengue, chikungunya or fever and rash that were being picked up and sampled.
He said that it was a priority to assess whether or not the Zika virus was circulating in the country and that it was necessary to strengthen the investigation around the index case, including retesting to check if it was indeed positive. He also advised sampling of the negative tests to see if they were really negative.
Once it was established that the virus was circulating in Jamaica, there would be no need to keep testing all cases. It would then be necessary to monitor the trend of the epidemic and the geographical spread. It would also be necessary to monitor pregnant women and cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), and to establish baseline data for microcephaly and GBS.
At the end of Dr Hugonnet’s presentation, Dr De La Haye resumed the podium to continue his duties as Chairperson. In a rather dramatic turn of events, he told the gathering that on his way to the symposium, he had actually received information that 2 new cases of Zika had been confirmed. This meant that the country now had a total of 3 confirmed cases. He noted that the 2 cases had been confirmed by the recently upgraded Virology Lab at UWI, saying that it was an advantage to have a shorter turn around time for getting test results. (See JIS report regarding UWI Virology Lab upgrade)
By the time the Ministry of Health held a press briefing the following afternoon (Friday, March 18), the number of confirmed cases had increased to 4. Remarks by Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton at Zika press briefing – 18-3-16 By the post-Cabinet press briefing on Tuesday, March 22, another case had been confirmed, bringing the total to 5. Four of the cases were in Portmore, St Catherine and one was in Lyssons, St Thomas. And it is expected that the number of cases will increase.
Representatives of the Ministry of Health have been doing many media interviews, outlining the steps being taken by the Ministry regarding the increased number of cases and reiterating the ongoing public health messages about reducing the risks of being infected by the Zika virus.
Caribbean Public Health Agency Update on Zika in the Caribbean
On March 23, 2016, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) posted a short video in which Executive Director, Dr. C. James Hospedales provided an update on the Zika virus in the Caribbean region. (Click here for video.)Some points made by Dr Hospedales:
- 15 countries in the region have reported cases of Zika virus transmission in their countries/territories.
- Microcephaly & Guillain-Barre are rare conditions and are not required to be reported in the Caribbean region, so there is little baseline data on these conditions.
- CARPHA is now in the process of setting up collection of baseline data.
- The Caribbean is vulnerable to Zika virus for a number of reasons: a susceptible population which has not met the virus before, wide spread Aedes aegypti mosquitoes & a lot of travel in and out of the region.
- In another 2 months, many of the countries will see the start of the rainy season, which will increase possibilities for increased mosquito breeding.
- The two most important messages for stopping the spread of Zika are stopping the mosquito breeding & stopping the mosquitoes biting.
CDC Issues Updated Zika Recommendations to do with Pregnancy and with Sexual Transmission
On March 25, 2016, the US Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), issued an update of its recommendations regarding aspects of Zika Virus. (Click here for full update.)
The updated recommendations, which are worth reading in full, are given under 3 headings:
Article 1: Updated interim guidance for pregnant and reproductive age women
Includes the following:
Article 2: Updated interim guidance for preventing sexual transmission of Zika
Includes the following:
Article 3: Increasing access to contraception in areas with active Zika transmission
Includes the following:
(It is significant to note that more than 50% of pregnancies in Jamaica are unintended, which impacts the public health education regarding Zika and pregnancy here also.)
As the spread and impact of the Zika virus continues in the region, we in Jamaica need to keep informed and act on the information to best protect ourselves from this new personal and public health challenge.