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Sep 28, 2016

MOH Hold Press Conference to Give Update on Zika in Belize

The number of cases of ZIKA is on an upward trend and among the affected persons are six pregnant women.  The Ministry of Health held the fourth press conference on zika and dengue today following the outbreak of zika last November.  Belize, Cayo and Stann Creek districts have the highest numbers of cases, but in terms of the positivity rate, Toledo tops the list. News Five’s Duane Moody.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

It is no secret that zika cases have been confirmed in Belize, but we did not how many. Since the start of the year, at week thirty-eight, there are forty-six confirmed cases of the virus. While Toledo has the highest rate of two per ten thousand persons, Belize City has twenty-one of the forty-six cases of zika in the country. All districts except for Corozal have at least one confirmed case of zika. For some time now, the Ministry of Health has been working with pregnant women and those expecting to get pregnant because zika, which can also be sexually transmitted, can have adverse neurological effects on babies. The Ministry of Health has placed its focus on three specific groupings.

 

Lorna Perez

Nurse Lorna Perez, Surveillance Officer, Epidemiology Unit, MOH

“So when we look at the numbers here, we have five hundred and ninety-one suspected cases. Of these three hundred and five have actually been screened which means a blood sample or a urine sample has been collected from these persons which represents fifty-two point five percent of all suspected cases being screened. Of these three hundred and five tests that have been done, we’ve received a hundred and seventy-seven results, which represents fifty-eight percent of all samples taken which means we are still pending some results. Of this hundred and seventy-seven now, we have forty-six positive, which is twenty-six percent. So far we have that as our positivity rate.”

 

The abnormal smallness of the head due to incomplete brain development, also known as microcephaly, is most popularly recognized as the main effect of zika. The facts show that six pregnant women have zika—five in the Cayo District and one in Belize District. Three have already given birth – the babies so far have not exhibited any conditions of microcephaly or other malformations.

 

Natalia Largaespada Beer

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

“The surveillance of the effects of exposed infants have now expanded to not only microcephaly, but to other congenital malformations related to zika such as genitourinary, cardiac and digestive systems, hearing and visual abnormalities. The scope of the syndrome will expand as further information and longer follow-up of affected children becomes available. There is no treatment, there is no vaccine against zika virus. A lot of the preventative measures that are being recommended can be applied to women that are not pregnant and women during pregnancy.”

 

But there are multiple issues facing the health system because there is a huge delay in terms of getting results on zika tests. And then there is the possibility that the Guillain-Barré Syndrome could surface as a result of zika.

 

John Sosa

Dr. John Sosa, Neurologist, K.H.M.H.

“Countries that have had zika have seen a spike in Guillain-Barré Syndrome where people get progressively paralyzed because the nerve goes bad. The zika affects the nerve tissue, the nerve goes bad and they gradually get weaker and they can have pain and they can have numbness and other things. So Guillain-Barré is something that we are looking for because in every country where you’ve had spikes of zika, we’ve seen spikes of Guillain-Barré. Normally at the K.H.M.H., we see between five and seven Guillain-Barrés per year. So if all of a sudden we start to see more, then we have to start to figure out there must be something going on.”

 

Zika preparation started in early February and the ministry immediately sprung into action with a preparedness plan that deals with sensitization of the healthcare system. Vector control measures were further developed in the nine municipalities across the country.

 

Kim Bautista

Kim Bautista, Chief Operations Officer, Vector Control Unit, MOH

“We started, as with other countries, to look at funding sources, external funding. Several proposals were written and submitted to various agencies. The success was minimal but still somewhat positive. We began to develop partnerships with various stakeholders: PAHO, UNICEF, the B.B.I.A., the Mexico Institute of Public Health, CARPHA, the Gorgas Institute in Panama, among many others.  ULV spraying on a whole is ongoing and basically has not stop since last year. Normally we would do ULV spraying during the rainy season or we would start around May and end in October-November. But over the past two years, we have been doing it almost all year around and it has incurred significant cost.”

 

The Ministry of Finance has approved insect repellants and insecticide bed nets that are being distributed free of cost through the various health facilities. According to Chief Operations Officer, Kim Bautista, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested, but the community has to participate for there to be significant results.

 

Kim Bautista

“The Ministry of Finance has also approved for countrywide indoor residual spraying in key hotspots at a cost of ninety thousand dollars. And so if you basically look at the investment excluding the salaries of the sixty-two staff countrywide and the fuel and all of this, I would say that it is well over six hundred thousand dollars since the start of the year.”

 

Dr. Natalia Largaespada Beer

“The take home message for healthcare providers and for individuals—as Mister Bautista was alluding to that it is not only an institutional effort, but it requires an individual effort—is that we should make all efforts to prevent and plan for an intended pregnancy.”

 

The results for forty-two percent of the samples sent to CARPHA are still pending. Duane Moody for News Five.

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