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Zika transmission ‘unlikely’ in Bermuda

Spreading danger: the Aedes aegypti mosquito (File photograph by Andre Penner/AP)

The Zika virus is unlikely to spread locally, despite the first reported “imported” case on the island.

The Bermuda Government last week revealed that a person in Bermuda had been diagnosed with the virus after travelling to an area with an outbreak of Zika, which has made headlines as it spread throughout South America and the Caribbean.

Noting the recent case, nurse epidemiologist Jennifer Wilson told the Hamilton Rotary Club yesterday there had still not been any recorded local transmission of the Zika virus.

And while she said it was possible for the virus to spread locally, she said conditions on the island make widespread transmission “unlikely”.

“Bermuda does not have the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the mosquito most capable of spreading the virus. The Zika virus has not been contracted in Bermuda and Bermuda’s vector programme is among the best in the world, as it relates to mosquito control,” she said.

“Perhaps the key word there is ‘unlikely’. We cannot say that there is ‘zero’ chance that the virus will be transmitted locally.

“Protecting yourself, your family, your friends and your community is key to preventing the spread of this virus.”

While many who contract the virus experience no symptoms, common symptoms include fever, rash, red eyes and joint pain.

Ms Wilson said the most serious consequence of Zika is the transmission of the virus from a pregnant mother to her unborn baby, which can cause birth defects. As a result, pregnant women are advised to avoid travelling to countries with an ongoing outbreak.

“The greatest risk for acquiring Zika by Bermuda residents at this time is travel to a Zika-affected country,” she said. “It is important to stay up-to-date with which countries are affected, as this list is increasing.

“If they do travel to such an area, they are advised to take measures to avoid catching the virus through mosquito bites or sexual activity. If a pregnant woman’s partner has been exposed to Zika, they are advised to abstain from sexual contact or use condoms consistently.”

“Zika can be spread through any form of sexual contact with a person who has Zika,” she added. “Even if the infected person does not have symptoms at the time, safer sexual practices and prevention of pregnancy, including the consistent and correct use of barriers such as condoms, is necessary to prevent sexual transmission from a partner who has been exposed to Zika.

“Keep in mind that most people who have Zika infection have no symptoms and might not realise that they have been infected, therefore precautions after exposure, must be taken even if you feel well.”

Other strategies to combat the spread of the virus include addressing the breeding sites of mosquitoes.

Armell Thomas, programme manager of Port Health and Vector Control, highlighted the fact that while Bermuda does not have the Aedes aegyti mosquito, it does have a “sort of cousin” which is not as efficient a carrier.

“This mosquito is small, with striped legs and body, and is mostly a daytime biter. It is not the only species of mosquito in Bermuda and so not every bite will be from a capable carrier...or vector as we call them.

“The Zika virus has not been contracted in Bermuda. This is partly due to the ongoing Vector Control effort to monitor breeding sites and curb breeding. This is also due to the public’s heightened awareness. I want to thank the public for tipping standing water, even small amounts, especially after storms. We are in a dry period right now. Unlike most of Bermuda, Vector Control actually likes a good dry spell. It dries up breeding grounds. Our team is assigned by district, and is constantly monitoring for breeding sites. Anyone who sees a breeding site or is being bitten should call us 278-5397.”

Mr Thomas said Bermuda has 600 ovi traps or egg traps, all around the island, that are monitored very regularly while 100 new traps have been purchased specifically designed to lure Aedes albopictus with a scent.

“These traps have a substance in them that is lethal to the female mosquito and her larvae.”

He reminded members of the public to monitor their health after travel.

“If you feel ill, see a doctor and say where you have been. If you have been to a Zika-affected area and you have symptoms, see a doctor. These steps will help keep the risk of local transmission of Zika as low as we can make it.”