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Insect Vector Unit goes in

Friday, February 19, 2016
T&T first Zika case from Diego...

Insect Vector Control Division authorities handling the Zika threat are today spraying areas of St George West, including a residential area in Diego Martin, where T&T’s first official Zika case was discovered, Health Ministry officials confirmed yesterday.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, while on a spraying tour in South, announced T&T had recorded its first official Zika case after laboratory tests. 

He said the country’s first case was a woman, age 61, who had returned recently from a visit to New Zealand, where there were no reported cases of Zika.

She presented symptoms of the virus on February 10 and testing was done February 12. 

Deyalsingh said the case was confirmed by the Caribbean Public Health Agency and investigations would begin to determine how the woman contracted the virus. He added she was at her home recovering but did not state where she lived.

But senior health and municipal corporation officials yesterday confirmed the first Zika case was recorded in St George West, in a particularly thickly populated western residential community of Diego Martin. 

The T&T Guardian obtained the name of the community but officials said due to patient confidentiality they preferred that the name of the area not be publicised. 

They said that had initially been done with the Chikungunya episode and only when that virus became widespread were the areas in which it was occurring detailed.

Insector Vector officials initially visited the particular Diego Martin community yesterday to begin spraying but many residents were not at home. 

As such, they sent out email notification through the Diego Martin Regional Corporation (DMRC) and will return to the community today to start the exercise. 

The email, however, advised residents who had young children, were pregnant or had a serious illness to vacate the area during the spraying. 

It also advised the residents to cover birds and food items and to turn off air conditioning units if they planned to stay inside, since that could trap the fog inside rooms and be harmful.

The T&T Guardian learned that residents of that area were also trying to get the DMRC to clean drains and have also alerted all residents to flush out gutterings, plant pots and other possible mosquito breeding spots. 

A schedule of spraying is also expected to be announced for other St George West areas over the coming days. 

Deyalsingh didn’t answer calls last night but is expected to give an update on the Zika issue today. 

After spreading to 21 countries, including Caribbean states—neighbouring Venezuela, Guyana, Barbados and Suriname—Jamaica recorded its first Zika case over two weeks ago.

Zika, the latest mutation of the influenza virus, is borne by the aedes aegypti mosquito. It is reported to have milder symptoms than the chikungunya virus. 

However, in Brazil where 1.5 million cases have been reported, there have been claims the virus is linked to microcephaly, newborn babies with abnormally small heads and brains. 

Investigations are also underway on claims of links with the Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an auto immune condition involving nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis and death.

At a UWI health symposium on Zika and H1N1 recently, UWI molecular genetics/virology professor Dr Christine Carrington said Zika may already be in T&T undetected, since it had mild symptoms and people might not go to hospitals for that. 

She said, however, that causative basis with microcephaly and Guillain-Barre Syndrome have yet to be firmly established. However, Carrington agreed pregnant women should be cautious. Saying mosquito eradication was necessary, she said Zika was not a threat to a healthy person who is not pregnant.

Deyalsingh at the symposium distanced himself from the possibility of abortions for a pregnant woman who may get the Zika virus. 

If such a woman wanted an abortion, they would have to consider that T&T’s law only allowed abortion if the mother’s life was in danger, he added.

Also at the symposium, Deyalsingh said businesspeople had suggested using genetically modified mosquitoes to destroy the aedes aegypti but he said the risks of introducing such a species was unknown and it would require 2.8 million such mosquitoes to destroy 20,000 female aedes aegypti.

Two days ago, the World Health Organization confirmed it’s looking at “novel approaches” to control mosquitoes known to spread the infection, including research into genetically modified (GM) insects. 

While Brazil has expressed interest in that option, Dominica recently vetoed it. An Indian company also said it has two Zika vaccine candidates ready for pre-clinical trials.