Miami-Dade Health officials are warning those traveling in the Caribbean and South America – particularly pregnant women – to be cautious of the mosquito-borne ZIKA virus, following confirmation of two cases in the county, and a third case in Hillsborough County, just outside Tampa. The disease, which has been rapidly spreading in the Caribbean and South America, were contracted by the Florida residents during their travel abroad in the region. No contractions of the disease, however, has been reported locally.
Meanwhile, members of the Diaspora planning to travel to the Caribbean are being warned of potential dangers, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues a travel alert for countries currently experiencing outbreaks. The disease, known for its flu-like symptoms, has been linked to babies born with birth defects from mothers infected with the virus. In Brazil, which has been experiencing a high number of infections, there are reports of over 3,500 babies born with brain damage, with an estimated 1.3 million cases of the disease. However, the CDC notes that additional studies are needed to specify the connection between birth defects and the Zika virus infection in the mother.
Caribbean countries so far with confirmed cases are Barbados, Guyana, Martinique, Haiti, French Guiana, Suriname and Puerto Rico. Other countries in the region with confirmed cases include Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Venezuela.
On January 14, the NFP for Guyana reported the first laboratory-confirmed case of locally-acquired Zika virus infection in the country. The case is a 27-year-old female from Berbice, Region 6, with onset of symptoms on 1 January. And on January 15, the NFP for Barbados reported the first three laboratory-confirmed cases of locally-acquired Zika virus infection in the country. Fortunately, none of the cases had a history of travel.
Caribbean scientist Hallie Barclay, a specialist in mosquito-borne diseases, said Diaspora travel “heightens the risk for diseases to spread, so it’s important that health officials in every country takes caution against Zika and its effects.”
Currently, there is no known medication to treat the Zika virus infection, which brings on fever, headache, and joint panes similar to other mosquito-borne diseases such as ChiK-V and Dengue. In addition, efforts are underway by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop vaccines, improved diagnostics to effectively counter Zika. However, Barclay said it could “be at least two to three years before a suitable vaccine is developed.”
Meanwhile, other Caribbean nations are undertaking efforts to stem the spread. Jamaica’s Minister of Health, Horace Dalley, assured that Jamaica has not recorded any cases of the virus, but said precautions are being taken by health officials against possible infections. Dalley said it could be a matter of time before the disease reaches Jamaica as it has reached other Caribbean nations such as Haiti and Barbados.
Although there is no evidence of the disease, Jamaican health officials have cautioned women to delay plans to become pregnant for the next six to 12 months because of the potential impact of the disease. Women who are currently pregnant are urged to be extremely cautious about being bitten by mosquitoes.
The CDC also announced it is collaborating with public health experts to take additional steps related to Zika. CDC is conducting additional research about the risks to pregnant women, and developing interim guidance for pregnant women as well as sharing additional information about Zika with public health officials, clinicians and the public.