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Jan 19, 2016

Is Zika in Belize?

You likely would have heard about ZIKA, the disease that has been spreading to Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. While deaths are rare, there are birth defects associated with the disease. In this hemisphere, Brazil has been mostly affected with a condition known as microcephal, which results in smaller-than-normal head size in newborns resulting in incomplete brain development. News Five’s Duane Moody speaks to the experts to find out if ZIKA has spread into Belize. Here’s his report.


Duane Moody, Reporting

Are there cases of Zika in Belize? ZIka is a mosquito-borne viral disease that made headlines back in May of 2015 when it spread to epidemic proportions in Brazil causing abnormalities in newborn babies. But according to the Director of Health Services, while it is considered an emerging infection, Zika is not a new virus. It first surfaced back in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.


Marvin Manzanero

Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services

“Zika is not a new virus. It’s become a buzzword because of what is happening in the media and the increasing number of countries that are reporting Zika virus. But Zika virus can go back to the 1950’s when it was first documented. It was more prevalent in Asia, Asian countries…some African countries and it didn’t really make its way in the epidemic proportion it has done until it did so over the last couple of years. Brazil has been the country that has been most affected; entire regions in the northern part of Brazil are the ones that have reported an increasing number of cases so they have an ongoing epidemic. And of course countries around those and I believe all Central American countries have reported at least a case; not so much so the Caribbean islands; a couple of them have.”


The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rashes, joint and muscle pains and conjunctivitis; some infected persons also experience headaches. These symptoms, says Doctor Manzanero, are similar to that of dengue and Chikungunya, both of which are in Belize.


Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“It bears some similarity to Chikungunya and dengue in that the clinical characteristics can be the same and that is transmitted by the same vector, which is why it mixes a little bit with…it will mimic then; it is expected to mimic dengue or chikungunya epidemics. That a tricky situation—both from the clinical side and from the personal side of the persons who may be having signs and symptoms—because if you go to a clinic with fever, headache, rash, general malaise; the first thing on the top of my head perhaps can be Zika because of what is going on right now. But dengue is also a common entity and Chikungunya. So you are not going to be able to perhaps make the differentiation in terms of clinical characteristics between Zika and dengue because they are similar, which makes it a little bit difficult. So even if you go to a health facility, you more than likely will be tested for dengue first. If that is negative, you perhaps will be tested for Chikungunya and then if that is negative then you go and be tested for Zika, which is the same algorithm most countries are following.”


There is no known vaccine or medications available for the prevention or treatment of a Zika infection.


Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“The Zika virus is not something that we can test for in Belize so we would have to send your sample outside of Belize in order to make the diagnosis. It’s a virus; there’s no treatment for it. So even if you show up and we think you have Zika, you are going to get Tylenol, the usual fluids, bed rest and that that kind of thing.”


Last Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel alert for Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, due to the outbreak of Zika virus in these regions and its connection to birth defects. So is Zika in Belize?


Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“We may already have cases of Zika. Now the issue is not closing the borders; I mean it is a tropical disease that we are going to have to live with. It is how you go about dealing with all vector borne diseases. The fact that we are more urbanized, the fact that we are more, the fact that there is travel; the mosquito travels as well—not only humans. The fact that we also are more mobile in transportation—land, air—all of those are entities that are going to contribute to epidemics. Like what happened with Ebola; for example. So we may already be having Zika cases, it’s just that we haven’t reported it.”


Unlike hemorrhagic dengue and severe cases of Chikungunya, hospitalization is uncommon in Zika and deaths are rare. Duane Moody for News Five.

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