Between November 2016 and April 2017, the Ministry of Health has sent out five hundred and thirty seven samples to Chetumal for Zika testing. Of that amount, one hundred and twenty four of them have turned out positive. According to the Chief of Operations in the Vector Control Unit, Kim Bautista, the prevalence is shown in the Corozal District.
“With respect to Zika I think it’s been a very good year for us, because as you know with Zika the capacity even public and private in country for testing is nonexistent and so now as of November we started sending samples to Chetumal so we are getting results almost on a weekly basis. The majority of those coming from the Corozal district there are other areas of the country, certain areas in Orange Walk as well but mostly from the Corozal district. So if you look at last year it’s a little bit difficult to make a comparison because remember it was detected in April and it was a new disease in the region and we didn’t have that capacity for testing and so at the time we were sending some samples to Panama, we were sending to Trinidad and we did pick up a handful of cases so because of the testing being normalized now we cannot really compare at this point because it was a disease that came on board towards the latter part of 2016.”
The cooperation from Chetumal, Quintana Roo when it comes to testing came about via collaboration between the Ministry of Health both in Belize and Mexico as well as the Pan American Health Organization which was signed onto in November 2016 for a period of one year. This cooperation agreement allows health officials to send samples for dengue, chikungunya and Zika on a weekly basis with a five to seven day response. Bautista says that in addition to the testing, there is also a study taking place which has revealed some unreliability issues with the rapid testing for dengue and Zika.
“The study is interesting because it is actually showing us that although I gave you some figures in terms of dengue and stuff, it is showing us that the issue as it relates to the type of tests that is done in country for Dengue because what they are doing is a PCR test which is basically recognized as a gold standard for these viruses and that’s testing at the DNA level and while in country and what most countries and private facilities would use is rapid testing and so the results are showing us that we have very few Dengue cases being reported out of those 500 samples that we have sent to Mexico so the issue comes up in terms of what you refer to as cross reactivity whereby the virus, the test is basically confused with the virus that it is picking up and so sometimes we end up with a false positive. So it might come out positive for dengue but it is actually Zika and so that is an issue that we believe is arising as well.”
The Zika virus first came about in Belize in April 2016. Since then a public awareness campaign via the Ministry of Health was launched with an aim to not only prevent but also to educate the populace on what the disease entails. Bautista explained the symptoms as well as the possible ramifications when a person engages in sexual intercourse with someone who has been infected with Zika.
“The issue also arises of sexual transmission which is still possible. The way it works is when you are bitten by an infected mosquito you go through an incubation period within the individual. Basically the virus is replicating itself within the blood stream. Then that is where you give it within three to five days symptoms start appearing, fever, chills, joint pain, in terms of Zika you get conjunctivitis but it’s not the pink eye with the puss, you get a rash as well. You go through what is referred to as a virile** period meaning that you are at the peak when mosquitos are capable of getting infected by you and then the disease continues. So basically the whole period from the point where you get infected to the point where you go through that episode it tends to last as long as two weeks in terms of going through the body. Thereafter you might have lingering effects in terms of general weakness or joint pain and stuff but you are not capable of infecting anybody anymore and then over the following months in terms of dengue you build up immunity to that particular strain of virus; with Dengue there are four strains with Zika we are not seeing that. So you get infected with Zika you get immunity and then that is it you won’t get infected again with Zika.”
“But you can still spread it sexually?”
“No what tends to happen is that the studies are showing that for a little longer period of time for whatever reason it stays in the semen for up to six months and that is why the advice is that you need to use condoms. But those studies aren’t showing that it is present in the blood stream or that you are still capable of infecting other mosquitos but for whatever reason it stays in the semen for that period of time. So sexual transmission is real with respect to Zika.”
In the last five months there have been ninety four confirmed cases of Zika in the Corozal District; twenty three in Orange Walk; four in Belize and three in the Cayo District.