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Feb 18, 2016

Healthy Living Has Update on Zika in Caribbean

As of February of 2016, twenty-two countries in the Americas, including eleven which are Caribbean countries and four which are CARICOM members have confirmed cases of Zika. Barbados, Guyana, Haiti and Suriname have confirmed cases of Zika since the virus spread to this region in 2015. This is why it is no surprise that Zika was a high priority for all member states at the twenty-seventh Intersessional Heads of CARICOM conference. In attendance was the CARPHA Executive Director and he shared some of the latest data on the disease. Tonight’s Healthy Living looks at the most recent findings on Zika.


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

The Caribbean Public Health Agency/CARPHA is the CARICOM agency works in disease prevention, expert laboratory service and disease surveillance as well as the overall promotion and protection of health in the Caribbean.  Doctor James Hospedales is the Executive Director of CARPHA.


James Hospedales

Dr. James Hospedales, Executive Director, Caribbean Public Healthy Agency/CARPHA

“Since last year when this became a problem in South America, we stepped up our testing capabilities and alerted all the countries. We’re getting in from all the countries the suspected cases and testing. We’ve also enhanced our testing so for example, Zika presents with fever, rash, muscle aches, which could be – measles – could be dengue – and the systems we have for that surveillance for Zika is that if they are negative for dengue, if they are negative for Chikungunya then we would look to see if Zika is creeping in. so that’s one of the first things to do to characterize the epidemic, where the transmission is taking place, who are the people most affected and so the labs play a key role at the very beginning of an epidemic.  We’re not attempting to track cases in this epidemic because three quarters of the people who are infected have no symptoms. We’re focused on our testing in detecting newly infected areas, helping to investigate outbreaks and complicated cases. The development with the Zika Virus apparently causing microcephaly in babies born to pregnant mothers while infected, that is new and that is where we are evaluating what type of testing protocols and what kind of capacity building we need to do in the next year or two.”


Zika has preoccupied people all over the world and in the Caribbean it is no different. The newness of the disease in this region and the possible links to other conditions being investigated had led to the spread of some misinformation as well.


Dr. James Hospedales

“Whenever a new disease emerges and it is unclear about what is really causing it you tend to find a lot of conspiracy theories and so people claim it’s the larvaecide, it’s the genetically modified insect, it was a vaccine that was given at the same time. All of those have to be looked at and there are ways to assess whether there is a link or not. So take the issue of the larvaecide, it doesn’t make sense. This chemical is used right across the world, has been used for many years, so if there had been this type of association it would have been picked up before. My wife is a veterinarian. It is used in the household to kill fleas and we use it in our worn house. So I think it’s unlikely.”


There’s a lot scientists still don’t know about the virus and the definitive links will take some time to confirm. But Doctor Hospedales says when it comes to the link between Zika and microcephaly, the evidence is convincing.


Dr. James Hospedales

“There are a number of things – steps you go through – again with a new disease before you definitely say this is the cause but the evidence is getting stronger and stronger that this is what it is. For education purpose, the link to microcephaly is if a pregnant woman contracts Zika at what point in her pregnancy? The risk period seems to be the first three to six months especially the first trimester. This is how other diseases that cause those problems also became like Rubella or German measles; if you get that in the first three months of pregnancy you have a higher chance of having a problem with the baby. This is consistent so it is the first three to six months.”


Another disease that has been shown to have a strong connection with Zika is the Guillain-Barré syndrome. GBS causes the immune system to attack the body’s nerves which leads to weakness and in server cases temporary paralysis. According to Hospedales, Zika is not only a health issue but an economic and environmental issue> it can also have devastating effects on our tourism product, all these reasons are why the leaders in CARICOM are concerned.


Dr. James Hospedales

“The CTO did an estimate that if there is a two percent decline of tourism it would equate the four hundred million dollars loss in revenues and if it is sustained then we’re talking about a loss of five hundred million to a billion dollars if it’s sustained for two to three years. The most important thing to consider with the Zika virus is to realize that this is the same mosquito that spread dengue and Chikungunya and to stop mosquitoes breeding in and around your house and stop them from biting especially if there is a pregnant woman, a person who has chronic health problems then you really want to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes and stay informed, stay tuned as to how this disease moves through our region.”

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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