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Expert confirms Zika risk is low

An international expert has backed up the Bermuda Government's assertion that the island has a “low risk” of local Zika virus transmission.

However, Jimmy Whitworth, Professor of International Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, urged health officials to remain vigilant.

It comes after the Department of Health confirmed a second “imported” case of the mosquito-transmitted disease last Wednesday.

“As the main mosquito vector for Zika, Aedes aegypti, is not found in Bermuda, the risk for local transmission is low,” Dr Whitworth said.

“However, health officials in Bermuda need to remain vigilant as another mosquito, Aedes albopictus, is present there and is capable of transmitting Zika, although not very efficiently.

“The Government appear to be taking all the necessary precautions and offering the public sound travel and bite- protection advice.”

In response to the second confirmed “travel-related” case, Jeanne Atherden, the Minister of Health and Seniors, stated last week that “there had been no local spread of Zika virus reported in Bermuda, and the absence of any outbreaks of mosquito–transmitted diseases in several decades makes Bermuda a low risk location for local transmission”.

A statement from the Department of Health added that “although widespread, ongoing local transmission remains unlikely, the public is asked to guard against mosquito bites and sexual transmission both away and at home in order to keep Bermuda's risk as low as possible”.

The Department also warned that imported cases make local spread possible because of the local presence of a potential vector and issued the following advice to the public:

• Use an EPA-approved insect repellent every time you go outside, and follow label instructions;

• Drain standing water where mosquitoes can breed around homes and offices on a weekly basis. If you are bitten, call Vector Control: 278-5397

• Wear long sleeves and pants when outside.

• After travel in a Zika area, men and women should protect their sexual partner(s) by using condoms correctly and consistently for six months.

• Use air conditioning or make sure doors and windows are screened to keep mosquitoes outside.

Physicians were also reminded to report any suspected cases to the Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit as required by the Public Health Act 1949.

The statement added: “It is particularly important to protect pregnant women, or those who plan to become pregnant, from contracting the Zika virus, because Zika may cause developmental problems in the baby during pregnancy.

“Pregnant women should avoid travel to areas with known Zika virus, and if travel is deemed unavoidable, take very careful precautions against mosquito bites and sexual transmission.

“If travellers to Zika-affected areas experience fever with joint pains, rash or conjunctivitis, they should seek medical attention and inform the healthcare provider of their recent travel history. The healthcare provider may order testing based on an evaluation of a patient's symptoms and likelihood of encountering the virus.

“There is currently no vaccine for Zika and the healthcare provider will advise on how to treat any symptoms.”

For more Bermuda-specific information on the Zika virus, visit www.gov.bm/zika-virus

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Published September 01, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated September 01, 2016 at 5:48 am)

Expert confirms Zika risk is low

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