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Apr 21, 2016

Healthy Living Looks at Zika and Microcephaly

While Ministry of Health officials await test results on suspected cases of Zika that have been sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad; the education and prevention strategies continue. Zika, a mild vector borne illness, and its link to other more serious complications has been reported on continuously since last year.  It was only in the early part of this month that scientists have definitively concluded that Zika can cause microcephaly and Gillian-Barre Syndrome. So, the link that has been suspected since the spike in microcephaly cases in Brazil last year is now a scientific consensus.  So what can expecting moms and women of reproductive age do to protect themselves and their unborn children? We get the local advice from the Ministry of Health’s Maternal and Child Health Technical Adviser in tonight’s Healthy Living.

 

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

This week the CDC officially reported that Belize is the forty-third country to reportedly have cases of Zika. Locally though, the Ministry of Health has not confirmed any cases – as yet. But whether confirmation of Zika in Belize happens in the near future or later in the year…it is everywhere else around us. This makes it a critical time for Belizeans to start thinking about prevention.

 

Natalia Largaespada Beer

Dr. Natalia Largaespada Beer, Maternal & Child Health Technical Adviser, MOH

“The message from the Ministry of Health to the public is one of prevention, prevention. So just as a reminder, we have the mosquito in country and the mosquito, the aedes aegypti is the one that causes dengue chikungunya and Zika. A reminder that eighty percent of the cases of Zika are asymptomatic; only twenty percent will have symptoms.  .The most common symptoms, more than sixty percent, is the rash and this is ninety-six percent of the cases. The rest of symptoms that are more than fifty percent are headache and conjunctivitis. And then less than fifty percent, as low as thirty-six percent have fever.”

 

The mildness of the symptoms means that people can have Zika and not even know it. Since only one out of three will develop a fever as a result of Zika; the symptoms to look for would be a rash and possible itch. It may be accompanied by pink eye or joint pain.
Zika can also be transmitted sexually; which means, an infected mosquito may infect a male and the virus becomes present in his semen; any unprotected sex with a woman can infect that woman and if she is pregnant it can be passed on to her unborn child.

 

Dr. Natalia Largaespada Beer

“If you’re not planning to get pregnant just use a condom. For women who are planning to become pregnant, the advice is if the partner or her travel to an area with active Zika virus transmission, they should wait at least eight weeks—using condom every time they have sex or have no sex—to reduce the potential risk of transmitting the virus if either—especially the man—if transmission is from male to female. So if the male is asymptomatic and she gets pregnant within this window period of eight weeks, then there is a greater risk of contracting the virus.”

 

Its hoped that couples will understand the urgent need to take precaution. Since the link has been established that getting infected by Zika – at any point in your pregnancy – can cause severe birth defects.

 

Dr. Natalia Largaespada Beer

“We define microcephaly as infant head being smaller than a normal infant without microcephaly for age and sex. We have a WHO chart that we use for children at term and we have a next growth chart that we use for preterm babies. It is not only the size of the head, but the damage that it cause to the tissue in the brains up to even calcification of the brain. That means that the brain cannot function normally if that child were to survive. But that can be detected because not all cases of microcephaly will end up with calcification. But you need to document that, investigate it before through ultrasounds. We recommend at twenty weeks and then at twenty-nine weeks and then do a comparison to see if there is any reduction in the size of the head of the fetus and if there is any changes suggesting that there are changes to the brain tissue. The recommendations during pregnancy are that the woman needs to come to us as early as she knows that she is pregnant. Once she misses one period that’s enough to come in and say well let’s see if I am pregnant and then we start the process of education and providing other services. The recommendation during pregnancy is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes and for that we have weekly elimination of the breeding sites around the house. It’s not one time, but every week. Use clothing to reduce the exposure to being bitten by a mosquito; use repellent and not all repellents are good for pregnant women so they have to make sure that they use the one that’s recommended by CDC for example. Use screens in the home to reduce the entry of the mosquitoes; use bed nets not only in the night but during the day. So if you are going to take a nap during the day has to be with bed nets. Avoid travelling to areas…if we confirm a first case it would be traveling to areas known to have active transmission of the virus or abroad. We definitely have to avoid those traveling if the woman can. That’s the first method; to avoid the mosquito bite. The second one is to protect against the transmission. So she is already pregnant and if there are identified cases in Belize, documented, or if the husband travels abroad or even if none of those are present, it is recommended that the pregnant woman use a condom every time she has sex or just don’t have sex until the end of the pregnancy.”

 

Doctor Beer says that only one to two percent of pregnant women infected with Zika will be at risk of having a child with birth defects. Even though not all babies of Zika infected moms will be born with microcephaly, it is just not worth the risk.

 

Dr. Natalia Largaespada Beer

“Countries have come to realize that women and couples and families have rights to make their own decisions. Of course if you know that there is a threat situation, one would try to make as much as possible all the precautionary measures to avoid complications, in this case, the fetus. So as I mentioned before, if you are not rushing to have a child, we have how to help you. There Is no treatment for Zika so prevention is the only response that we can implement in country to reduce the number of potential cases of Zika.”

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