Despite 56 suspected cases of the Zika virus in The Bahamas, no one has tested positive, Ministry of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Glen Beneby confirmed yesterday.
“In The Bahamas, testing of suspected cases began in January 2016,” Beneby explained at a press conference. “As of July 9, 2016 there have been 56 suspected Zika cases, all of whom have had samples sent to our reference laboratory for testing.
“To date, all results received are negative for the Zika virus.”
It was recently reported that the Turks and Caicos Islands recorded five cases of the virus.
Three of those cases were associated with a recent history of travel to areas where cases of Zika have been reported, while the other two cases are still under investigation.
Director of Public Health Dr. Pearl McMillan admitted that included in the number of suspected cases were visitors to The Bahamas.
When asked to provide a breakdown of how many suspected cases came from Bahamians and how many from visitors, she said she was unable to.
However she explained that there is protocol for each suspected case.
The first step is to obtain three samples of blood to be tested for Zika and other mosquito-transmitted diseases including Chikungunya and Dengue.
A human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) test for women of childbearing age is administered.
The next step is for patients to complete a case investigation form and Bahamas lab form.
Immediate contact is then made to the department’s Surveillance Unit.
Finally the specimen goes to Princess Margaret Hospital’s lab for referral out of country to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
According to Beneby, as of July 7, 2016, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reported 40 countries and territories with confirmed local vector born transmission of the Zika virus in the Americas since 2015.
It was during that period that more than 10 countries in the Caribbean had confirmed cases.
According to Beneby, there is now heightened surveillance with the departments of public and environmental health, in an effort to follow up on each of the suspected cases.
Andrew Thompson, assistant director of the Department of Environmental Health Services, said his team is working diligently to do its part.
“When there are reports of Zika, we go around that case a number of times within a week or so to ensure that if there are any female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, they would be knocked out of the population,” he said.
“It is an integrated approach where we as a department are doing all that we can. But the community has a significant role to play.”
The ministry is also working to educate the public by embarking on a number of ventures including conducting educational sessions for public and private health care providers.
There are also Family Islands visits with associated town meetings, school presentations, radio and television appearances as well as public service announcements in both English and Creole.
Having to send Zika testing samples out of the country to the reference laboratory at CARPHA has proved to be a challenge for the ministry, but The Bahamas is currently working on making the testing process more convenient, according to Beneby.
“Some countries have decided to have their own testing in country and one such country is Jamaica,” he said. “The Bahamas has taken a step in that direction to do testing in country.”
Asked how soon that would happen, he said: “The right answer to that is as soon as we are able to do so.”
Officials said the same precautions are not “New Providence centric” and also extend to the Family Islands.
Zika is transmitted primarily via Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and can be passed on via pregnancy or sex.
Symptoms are usually mild and most victims have no symptoms at all. The symptoms include low fever, skin rash, red eyes without discharge, muscle and joint pain, as well as headaches.
Symptoms usually begin two to seven days after being infected and last about a week.
While there have been some cases that have led to death, health officials said in most cases patients survive.
Currently there are no specific drugs or vaccines to cure the disease.