The Ministry of Health is advising pregnant women and women of childbearing age to avoid exposure to mosquito bites, in light of recent press reports about the risk posed to pregnant women by the Zika virus.
Health officials therefore recommend that women wear clothing with long sleeves and long legs, especially in the morning and late afternoon; use mosquito repellents with DEET applied according to manufacturers instructions, and sleep under and insecticide-treated bed net.
“Many persons may remain unaware they have the virus, as they may not develop any symptoms. Only one in four persons with Zika will develop symptoms and in those with symptoms the illness is usually mild,” a statement from the Ministry said.
Research is being done to determine what effects Zika can have on developing fetuses. According to preliminary analysis of research carried out by Brazilian authorities, the greatest risk of microcephaly and malformations appears to be associated with infection during the first three months of pregnancy.
“Although cases of microcephaly have occurred in Barbados, microcephaly is an uncommon condition which can be caused by genetic or environmental factors (related to toxicity, radiation or infection). It is defined as a condition in which the circumference of the head is less than expected for age and sex,” the statement added.
Health authorities, with support from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other agencies, are conducting research to clarify the cause, risk factors, and consequences of the apparent increase in microcephaly cases in Brazil. We note however that the baseline risk of microcephaly is very low.
Zika infection is a mild febrile viral illness transmitted by the bite of a Zika virus-carrying Aedes aegyti mosquito, which is the same mosquito which causes Dengue Fever and Chikungunya.
The main symptoms of Zika are fever, conjunctivitis, temporary arthritis, mainly in the small joints of the hands and feet, and a rash that often starts on the face and spreads throughout the body. In general, symptoms are mild and last between two and seven days. There is no vaccine or preventive drugs. Treatment is directed at alleviating symptoms.
“It must be emphasised that the best way to prevent infection is to minimise exposure to mosquito bites by taking preventive measures to reduce mosquito breeding. These measures include identifying and removing possible mosquito breeding sites such as collections of stagnant water from around homes and workplaces; wearing clothing with long sleeves and long legs; sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net; and using mosquito repellents with DEET applied according to manufacturer’s instructions,” the statement said.
Barbados recorded its first three cases of the Zika virus on January 14, 2016.