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Jan 21, 2016

Healthy Living: Is Belize Zika-ready?

It would be hard to miss, if you follow local or international news, that much of our region is in a “Zika-panic.” The mosquito transmitted infection has prompted travel warnings for several countries in Central and Latin America. A few countries have even specifically advised pregnant women not to risk traveling in these areas and for the women living in Brazil and Jamaica, they’re encouraging women to not to get pregnant during this time. What about Belize? Zika has been confirmed in all our neighboring countries.  In tonight’s Healthy Living, we find out from representatives of the Ministry of Health just how “Zika ready” Belize is.


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

In 2014, Belize was preparing for the arrival of an emerging disease called Chikungunya. By the end of that year, following confirmatory tests in Trinidad, Chik-V was confirmed to be in Belize. A year later, in 2015, the Ministry of Health issued a public advisory about another mosquito borne illness emerging in the region: Zika. The vector control unit of the Ministry of Health is tasked with the prevention and control of diseases like dengue, malaria, Chikungunya, Chagas and now Zika.


Kim Bautista

Kim Bautista, Vecto Control Chief of Operations, MOH

“In terms of the threat that we have seen with these diseases, we are being faced with a situation where within the span of I would say a little bit over twelve months, a little bit over a year, we have seen the introduction of two new diseases being added into the scene and of course being transmitted by the same aedes mosquito.”


According to Director of Health Services Doctor Marvin Manzanero, Belize’s strength in not facing an epidemic crisis with these new diseases is the established vector control program.


Marvin Manzanero

Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services

“I think we are never going to be fully prepared, particularly because it is an emerging infection. I think we have some headway because Zika is borne by the same vector as dengue and chikungunya. So whatever work have done in dengue and chikungunya kinda sets the table for what we could do or not do in terms of Zika. So there is always room for improvement, but I think when we are compared to other countries, particularly Caribbean countries, I think we have a well-established vector control program. We haven’t had high numbers of chikungunya cases as other countries have reported. Same thing with dengue; we haven’t had a high number of hemorrhagic cases or mortality associated to dengue. So I think whatever success stories we can create in terms of dengue will be reflected in chikungunya and Zika.”


In 2013, there were five hundred and sixty-one lab confirmed cases. In 2014: six hundred and eighty-three and a slight reduction in 2015 with six hundred and seventy-nine. But Cayo and Toledo had dramatic increase and Belize City and Stann Creek saw significant reduction.


Kim Bautista

“If you look at a disease like dengue, it’s endemic to us and so initially, you would see most of your cases coming in with the rainy season and we used to see it mainly in the urban areas. Now dengue is both urban and rural and it is being transmitted twelve months out of the year. The intensity of cure is during the rainy season. In terms of chikungunya, when we do have those index cases, those first cases always come from persons traveling from some nearby country that has the disease. So those persons would come in when they’re in, what we refer to as, a viremic period, which is the period that they are capable of transmitting infected aedes mosquitoes. That period is usually about a week. And so if you were infected let’s say in El Salvador or Guatemala, you come into the country during that timeframe; you are still capable of infecting mosquitoes in Belize. Those mosquitoes would then bite persons here and then that cycle is basically continued.”


But what about ZIKA? Are there any cases of Zika in Belize?


Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“Confirmed, we don’t have any…we haven’t identified any. We are trying to do testing for any potential case. It’s just like with chikungunya last year. When I said four confirmed cases; it’s not that we are hiding data—we have no reason to hide data—but those are the amount of cases that we managed to confirm.”


Both Bautista and Manzanero stress that Belizeans should do what is necessary to prevent the spread of these mosquito transmitted illnesses. Dengue is common enough for people to know its symptoms and both Chik V and Zika exhibit similar symptoms.


Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“For Zika, a fever, rash…some people are having conjunctivitis which is the pink eye that people are associating; slight joint pain, back ache…in more severe cases, abdominal pain. But it is the classic signs and symptoms of the other two diseases. For chikungunya, we have fever, rash, more severe joint pains—although that doesn’t have to be—headache, backache and I think the more classic thing is joint pain with the swelling of the joints. But what we have to tell people is that Tylenol is perhaps the only thing they should be taking if they don’t know what they have for the fever because anything else can lead to complications.”


Chik-V can leave infected persons with lingering joint pain for several months and in a few cases several years. Zika is the mildest of the three, but in the end of 2015 in Brazil, it is claimed that Zika was the cause of a brain defect in newborns. As far as prevention goes, the message is the same as with dengue prevention.


Kim Bautista

“Belizeans are aware of these diseases; Belizeans know how to prevent these diseases—specifically dengue and chikungunya; they know about these diseases, they know how it is transmitted.”


Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“It goes back to the basics. Whatever we have to do collectively as a community in terms of ensuring we don’t have any breeding sites for mosquitoes. If there are mosquitoes out there, use the insect repellants. Try to wear long sleeves, try not to be exposed in the early hours of the morning, when dusk is about to set in. whatever we have been doing for dengue and chikungunya applies for Zika. And spraying is not the only answer because people expect if the truck hasn’t passed, then I am at higher risk for Zika. That is only one layer of protection, but in reality, in between the spraying what are we doing as a community to ensure that we don’t have the breeding sites for the mosquitoes.”

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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