BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Thursday January 21, 2016 – With three cases of Zika virus confirmed in Barbados, the United States Embassy in Bridgetown has told its American staffers who are pregnant to get out of the country.
The advice came in a security message sent to US citizens at the Embassy yesterday.
“The US Embassy to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean, and the OECS advises US citizens that the Ministry of Health of Barbados has confirmed the presence of the mosquito-borne Zika virus on the island . . . The US Embassy has advised its pregnant US citizen staff members or dependents to depart Barbados,” the message read in part.
The Embassy directed citizens to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory on the Zika virus, which was issued on January 15, advising pregnant women that they should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing, out of an abundance of caution.
At the time the virus was in 14 countries. That number has since increased to 18: Brazil, Barbados, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, and Venezuela.
The CDC’s Level 2 travel alert, which indicates that travelers are advised to practice enhanced precautions – follows reports in Brazil of microcephaly – a rare condition in which the brains of infants are unusually small – and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant.
The CDC has also issued interim guidelines for health care providers in the US caring for pregnant women during a Zika virus outbreak.
In those guidelines published on Tuesday, the CDC recommended that pregnant women who have recently traveled to areas where Zika virus is transmitted be screened for the disease.
It said pregnant women with two or more symptoms should undergo a blood test for the virus.
Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes (conjunctivitis). But the CDC estimates that 80 per cent of people infected with the virus have no symptoms, which is why pregnant women without symptoms should be given an ultrasound to check their developing fetus for microcephaly or intracranial calcifications.
The CDC said if an abnormality is detected, a follow-up blood test should be performed.
Amniocentesis, in which a needle is used to retrieve a sample of amniotic fluid from the uterus, is recommended as a follow-up in women who have had a blood test result that is positive for Zika virus or who have had an abnormal finding on an ultrasound. Women who have tested negative should consider follow-up ultrasounds for the duration of their pregnancy under the new guidelines.
Health authorities in several countries, including Jamaica, Brazil and the Dominican Republic, have advised women to hold off getting pregnant until the threat of the Zika virus has passed.