Health Officials Speak ZIKA

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Updated: February 9, 2016

Health officials held a morning session discussing the ZIKA virus, its epidemiological profile, regional situation and national response.  Following that three hour discussion, the media was briefed on the current situation as it relates to the virus in Belize.  According to Dr Marvin Manzanero, the Director of Health Services, three samples have been sent out to the Caribbean Public Health Safety (CARPHA) for testing.

DR MARVIN MANZANERO

Those three cases the first one that has come back as a negative result is somebody who had a positive travel history to Guatemala and Honduras, was in San Pedro and that person has tested negative. The other person had symptoms and lives in a community where members are known to go to other Central American Countries. The third person tested was a pregnant female who had a fever and rash and we are using Zika as a criteria of exclusion and that is the reason why she was tested.”

Kim Bautista of the Vector Control Unit spoke on national preparedness and response and how the central health office has been communicating with the other health regions in the country as it relates to preventative measures.

KIM BAUTISTA

Because you are dealing with the same vector for dengue, Chikungunya and now potentially Zika what we are asking for is to look at the data that they have in terms of hotspots and high risk areas. For example if you look at the Cayo district you might be able to single out certain areas within Santa Elena or maybe Las Flores, Maya Mopan, St. Mathews, Camalote and even within Belize City within certain areas along the Southside. So what we have been trying to do is for them to work with the local municipalities and stakeholders to not only disseminate health information messages on how to prevent the mosquito bites but to start actively organizing themselves in terms of clean up campaigns.”

While the officials are taking measures in the country’s regions, Dr Manzanero says that not much is being done at the ports of entry or border points in Belize.

DR MARVIN MANZANERO

There is no particular measure that you can do at a border entry point because you can be asymptomatic. 80% of Zika cases will not have a sign or symptom and because they are very nonspecific sign and symptoms you could be having the flu and you would be screened and sent for Zika testing it’s not normally recommended. I don’t think any country in the region is testing for Zika. When you cross the border you could be asymptomatic which means that you get bitten and are not showing any signs or symptoms but are coming into the country what we are doing though is if the patient shows up a health facility your travel history will be recorded and if you have a positive travel history of having been in an area where Zika has been documented then that triggers a potential Zika case that will require testing but we are not doing anything at the borders. It’s very difficult for anybody to do actual testing at the border.”

As it relates to the financial aspect of this health concern, the media was told that there is a set budget and Government has expressed its willingness to invest more in preventative measures.

DR MARVIN MANZANERO

We had submitted our budget prior to the outbreak of Zika so that has gone on. We didn’t ask for a specific allocation for Zika. We have a specific allocation of funds for the control of Aedes Aegypti which is Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika. You don’t need three separate budgets in that regard.”

KIM BAUTISTA

The vector control program operates on a budget of roughly $800,000 a year and that is apart from grants that we receive. Because it’s the same vector there is nothing new so to speak but we did receive information from government after cabinet had met last week where they were willing to push the agenda of increasing cleanup campaigns. The experience that we’ve had in the past years with Dengue is that whenever there was an outbreak and there were any specific activity that we needed to conduct we would always get those supplemental funds allocated to us. For the most part I don’t believe that we’ve had any budgetary constraints that have inhibited us from executing the planned duties.”

The name, ZIKA comes from Uganda where the virus was first noted in 1947.  In the 1950s, the ZIKA virus was only present in the area from Africa to Asia.  By 2014, the ZIKA virus spread eastward across to the Pacific Ocean to French Polynesia and in 2015 it carried on into Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America where the ZIKA outbreak had reached pandemic levels.