BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday January 18, 2016 – Barbados has recorded its first cases of the Zika virus.
According to the Ministry of Health, of eight samples sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for testing, three returned positive and five negative for the virus.
No details were given about the patients, or whether they had contracted the virus in Barbados or abroad.
The Zika infection is a mild, febrile viral illness transmitted by the bite of a Zika virus-carrying Aedes aegyti mosquito, which is the same type of mosquito which causes dengue fever and chikungunya.
The main symptoms are fever, conjunctivitis, temporary arthritis, mainly in the small joints of the hands and feet, and a rash that often starts on the face and spreads throughout the body. In general, symptoms are mild and last between two and seven days. There is no vaccine or preventive drugs. Treatment is directed at alleviating symptoms.
The Ministry pointed out that persons might be unaware that they have the virus, as they might not develop any symptoms. It therefore advised everyone, including pregnant women and women of child-bearing age, to avoid exposure to mosquitos.
However, unlike officials in Haiti and Brazil, Barbadian health officials gave no special warning to pregnant women against the background of an apparent link between the virus and microcephaly, a rare condition in which the brains of infants are unusually small.
More than 3,500 microcephaly cases were reported in Brazil between October 2015 and January 2016, in babies born to women who were infected with the Zika virus while pregnant.
“Preliminary analysis of research carried out by Brazilian authorities has revealed that the greatest risks of microcephaly and malformations appear to be associated with infection during the first three months of pregnancy,” the statement from the ministry said.
“Health authorities, with the support of the Pan American Health Organisation and other agencies, are conducting research to clarify the cause, risk factors and consequences of microcephaly. The Ministry official stated, however, that the baseline risk of microcephaly was very low.”
The ministry advised the public that the best way to prevent infection is to minimise exposure to mosquito bites by taking preventive measures to reduce mosquito breeding, including: identifying and removing possible mosquito breeding sites, such as collections of stagnant water, from around homes and workplaces.
It said other important ways to avoid infection include: wearing clothing with long sleeves and long legs, especially in the morning and late afternoon; using mosquito repellents with 30 per cent DEET concentration; and sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net, especially during the day.