Published On: Wed, Aug 15th, 2018

Risk of getting Zika in the Caribbean is now low

ZikaPORT OF SPAIN - The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) says the chance of anyone in the region contracting the mosquito-borne Zika virus (ZIKV) now is “low”.

Following a review of relevant data over the last 30 months, CARPHA says the virus’ transmission has been “interrupted”.

ZIKV was first detected in the Caribbean in late 2015. The number of cases increased in the first half of 2016 and reached its peak circulation in August 2016, and then declined rapidly by December 2016.

“Before, during and after the introduction of the virus, CARPHA has been conducting surveillance and laboratory testing activity for ZIKV and has worked assiduously with its 26 CARPHA Member States and partners to strengthen the ability to detect and diagnose cases; to enhance the capacity to reduce transmission of this and other vector-borne diseases; and to improve coordination and use of information for prevention,” the Trinidad-based Agency said in a statement.

“At this time, ongoing surveillance and laboratory testing in CMS indicate that the epidemic circulation of ZIKV has been interrupted in Caribbean territories.”

CARPHA said its conclusion was based on congruency of data available from several sources and on experience of previous outbreaks of mosquito-borne viral diseases in the region.

It said local surveillance in member states has demonstrated both a decrease in general fever-related illness as well as a specific absence of ZIKV reports over the past year.

CARPHA added that its regional laboratory continues to test samples for mosquito-borne disease, including ZIKV, the Dengue virus and Chikungunya virus, and those tests have shown the drastic decrease from the peak of ZIKV circulation in 2016 to a situation where no cases of ZIKV have been confirmed among samples received from any CMS over the past 12 months.

CARPHA said it also reached out to international public health agencies, including the Public Health Agency of Canada and the European Centres for Disease Control, for information on cases of ZIKV in travellers returning from the Caribbean to Canada and Europe respectively, and the data shared indicate a similar pattern to that seen in the regional data – a drastic decrease from a high-point in 2016, to sporadic cases in the immediate aftermath and no cases this year.

“CARPHA advises that there is still a need to be vigilant given the ongoing risk for dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases. The Agency maintains continuous vigilance of health and disease trends and risks for residents and visitors in the region,” it said.

“We continue to work closely with other public health partners including US CDC, PAHO/WHO, tourism organizations public health agencies in Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union to find innovative ways of mosquito control including behaviour change communication and research.”

CARPHA added that working alongside its member states, it will support vector control activities and educate the public to protect the health of all within their borders.

But the health agency said there is also a need to: strengthen surveillance in member states; enhance laboratory testing capacity; document the findings of countries to ensure evidence-based policy and practice; look at ways to deal with climate-sensitive, mosquito-borne diseases; and set up registries for babies affected in the 2016 ZIKV epidemic.

There is scientific consensus that ZIKV infection during pregnancy is a cause of microcephaly in babies. Microcephaly is a congenital malformation resulting in smaller than normal head size for age and sex – which, in infants, correlates with underlying brain size.

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