Zika virus has been linked to microcephaly, a condition where the size of an infant’s head is smaller than normal.

The Ministry of Health is urging persons in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to take every precaution to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

The warning comes amidst concerns of confirmed cases of the Zika virus in neighbouring Caribbean countries, and the potentially devastating effects of the illness, especially on the babies of women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.

Zika is a viral disease transmitted by the aedes aegypti mosquito, the same vector for Dengue and Chikungunya.

This is the first time Zika has been detected in the CARICOM region.

Residents of SVG are being encouraged to note credible reports suggesting a strong link between Zika infection in pregnant females and unfavourable pregnancy outcomes, such as stillbirths and birth defects, notably microcephaly.

Microcephaly is a condition where the size of an infant’s head is smaller than normal, because of slowed or incomplete brain development.

While this may happen for a wide range of reasons, including inherited factors, it sometimes occurs as a result of exposure of the baby in the mother’s womb to certain infections, contracted in the first few months of pregnancy, the ministry said.

Zika virus is now suspected to be one of the infections that can increase the risk of this condition.

In keeping with the Pan American Health Organisation guidelines, females who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should seek prenatal care to receive information and monitoring of their pregnancy, as well as to follow their doctors’ recommendations.

“The Ministry of Health, therefore, reminds all persons, and especially women who are pregnant, to protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeved clothing or long pants, using insect repellents, and sleeping under mosquito nets. It is also important to destroy all breeding sites for mosquitoes in and around the home,” the ministry said in a statement.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Simone Keizer said: “There aren’t any recommended restrictions on travel due to Zika virus outbreaks at this time.”

She, however, said that to reduce the risk of contracting the virus infection, travellers should minimise exposure to mosquito bites by taking preventative measures.

Dr. Rosmond Adams, epidemiologist in the Ministry of Health, said that the best way to protect against the Zika virus is to avoid mosquito bites and to prevent mosquitoes breeding in and around the home environment.

Adams is also urging the public to inspect their homes and yards weekly, and also to eliminate potential mosquito breeding sites indoors and outdoors by keeping water drums and barrels tightly covered, and throwing out stagnant water from flower vases, old tyres, and other containers that might act as breeding sites.

He said the ministry is optimising all essential public health functions and services, including robust vector and disease surveillance and premises inspection, mosquito eradication and control measures.

The symptoms of the Zika virus are very similar to those of Dengue and Chikungunya, and include fever, muscle and joint pain, conjunctivitis, headache, nausea and rash.

Treatment

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika.

However, the symptoms, which last approximately four to seven days, are treatable.

To relieve fever and pain associated with the virus, it is recommended that persons drink lots of fluids and take pain relievers, such as paracetamol.

Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be avoided to reduce the risk of haemorrhage.

“The Zika outbreak can be abated, but this requires the full and sustained cooperation of every resident who must actively search for and destroy mosquito breeding sites inside and around their homes,” the Ministry of Health said.

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