Health officials here will not advise Barbadian women of childbearing age to postpone pregnancies due to the Zika virus; at least not for the time being.
Jamaica, Colombia, Honduras and El Salvador have urged women not to have babies for between six months and two years as a precaution aimed at avoiding birth defects believed to be linked to the mosquito-borne illness.
However, Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George has told Barbados TODAY the authorities here would not issue similar calls at this time.
“The Ministry of Health has not made a determination and therefore we have not supported the efforts of some of our Caribbean nations to declare that women should not become pregnant during this pandemic.
“That can change as we get more information . . . [but in the meantime] we encourage persons to use the protective clothing, to use mosquito repellent, insect sprays, if you have the option you can even turn on the AC in your house, you can consider purchasing a bed net as a short-term solution. And you need to examine your properties for larvae. I think that whole public involvement will go a long way in any containing effort,” Dr George said.
Zika is spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito which also causes Dengue and Chikungunya.
Barbados has so far recorded three confirmed cases of Zika and a further 27 samples have been sent to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency for testing.
While the virus may present no symptoms in some cases, Dr George suggested that individuals who do have symptoms, particularly women of childbearing age, should seek medical attention as quickly as possible, “because those are the persons who the most serious and long-term effects of Zika have been reported in.
“Remember the whole issue of small [headed babies] brought Zika on the world stage because if it was not for the issue of small heads I don’t think there would be much talk but the relationship is quite weak still,” he said.
Last week medical director of the Barbados Fertility Centre Dr Juliet Skinner questioned the link between Zika and microcephaly, saying there were other factors that could have contributed to the high levels of the birth defects in Brazil, and urged more research in that area.
In an apparent reference to Dr Skinner’s comments, Dr George stated that the Ministry of Health was working with various departments to safeguard the health of pregnant women and their unborn babies.
“I’m not going to speak more specifically to this but there are some other persons who have put forward other reasons why the babies in Brazil might have had small heads. However, it appears on the surface of it that there may be some association between Zika and microcephaly and we continue to monitor that.
“We’ve been working with the obstetrics department [and] the paediatric department at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the nurses who take care of pregnant women and young babies to come up with a strategy that is suitable to address a person who either has mild symptoms or feels they might have been exposed.”
He noted that health officials were also working with a number of agencies within the tourism and health sectors “to make sure that everyone knows that this is a national effort and everyone is coming to the table with ways in which they can try to put a significant dent in where we are at now with a view to eradication in the long term”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) today declared the Zika virus an international public health emergency after weeks of concerns by global health experts that the mosquito-borne virus may be linked to thousands of birth defects in Brazil.
Dr George said he was not surprised and that the declaration highlights the need for a greater effort and harnessing of resources by donors to addressing an acute public health problem.
“And I think if there’s any take home message from the scale up by WHO is that Barbados and the citizens of Barbados must take the responsibility of mosquito-borne diseases more seriously . . . that this is no joke, it is a serious condition particularly because it has the potential to affect a group of people and have adverse outcomes so they need to protect themselves,” Dr George said.