Public Health Issues Zika Travel Advisory

Following the continued regional outbreak of the Zika virus, local medical personnel remain on high alert. To this end, a travel advisory has been issued by the Public Health Department recommending all residents avoid non-essential travel to all affected countries. Referring to the Cayman Islands’ transient population and its ease of access to endemic areas currently experiencing an outbreak, Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr Samuel Williams said air travel can put persons at risk for the Zika virus.“Simply put, if someone is bitten by an infected mosquito in countries where Zika exists, the infection can be acquired and brought back to Cayman. It is therefore paramount the public protect themselves from mosquito bites by using mosquito repellents, wearing long sleeved clothing and pants tucked into socks during travels.” Dr Williams said his department remains confident as, “Staff of the Health Services Authority (HSA) and other local medical services providers have been advised to look for any local cases. As of Tuesday, 19 January 2016, there have been no suspected cases in the Cayman Islands.”There is no Zika vaccine available to prevent; or medicine available to treat Zika thus, identification and containment of an outbreak of this or any other nature is a top priority for Public Health. Dr Williams confirmed that should there be any future cases the local laboratory, headed by Ms Judith Clarke, has ensured arrangements are in place with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad for further laboratory testing.“It remains especially important that women who are pregnant or who plan to become pregnant take all necessary action to protect them from contracting the disease, as this can present complications with the foetus, in particular microcephaly,” he added. Dr Bill Petrie, Director of the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) notes measures for controlling the spread of Zika are similar to those applied for the control of dengue and chikungunya, as all three diseases are transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. “Until a vaccine is developed, the MRCU remains steadfast in its efforts to ensure the Aedes aegypti population is suppressed through effective vector control strategies,” added Dr Petrie.A travel health clinic is held on Thursdays in the Public Health Department at the Cayman Islands Hospital. Residents with travel plans can get advice on what diseases are present in their country of destination and what vaccines or precautions are needed. Further information can be obtained by contacting 244-2648. Side Note *Microcephaly is an abnormal smallness of the head, a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development.Zika now documented in 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries.The Zika virus transmission has been documented in the following Latin American and Caribbean countries: Brazil, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Martinique, Paraguay, El Salvador, México, Suriname, French Guiana, Guatemala, Panamá, Venezuela, Guyana, Haití, Barbados, Ecuador and St Martin. Source: Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO)