The Aedis aegypti mosquito, carrier of the Zika virus, threatens to do in Puerto Rico what $72 billion in debt hasn’t yet accomplished: Bring the island to its knees.
The mosquito-borne Zika may infect 43,000 pregnant women per year in Puerto Rico, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A total of 700,000 of all islanders – women and others – may be affected, or 20 percent of the population, an astronomical figure for an island of approximately 3.4 million.
Puerto Rico has reported 103 Zika cases through March 2, about 102 of them travel related.
“Zika virus is expected to continue to spread throughout the territory,” putting the population at risk, the CDC warned in a recent report.
The most common reported symptoms are rash (77%), myalgia (77%), arthralgia (73%), and fever (73%), according to the CDC report. But at least one person was reported to have Guillain-Barré syndrom, a rare disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerves, causing temporary paralysis. The more sensational effect is in pregnant women who may give birth to infants with microcephaly, a birth defect resulting in undersized skulls and brains.
The virus, first detected in Puerto Rico in December 2015 in an 80-year old man, arrives on the island at a moment when its health care system is collapsing. Puerto Rico’s public health care system was weak even in good times, charged as it is with caring for patients who are overwhelmingly poor by U.S. standards.
Now, however, with one-third of the Puerto Rico’s operating budget set aside to pay debt, the island health care is in critical condition. The Obama Administration has set aside $250 million for Puerto Rico to combat the Zika virus, according to news reports.
Puerto Rico is not the first area in the region to report the Zika virus. That was Brazil, from which the first case emerged in mid 2015. However, Puerto Rico is the most affected area under the U.S. flag, the CDC explained.
Florida at Risk
Florida is at risk given its proximity to the Caribbean and South America and the high incidence of travel among the areas. The Sunshine State has seen about 48 cases through March 4, half of them in Miami-Dade, according to the Florida Department of Health’s latest Zika briefing. Four involved pregnant women.
The tri-county area reported five cases – three in Orange and one each in Seminole and Osceola. “All cases are travel-associated. There have been no locally-acquired cases of Zika in Florida,” FDOH stated.
That may change as Florida heads into rainy season in June.
The CDC is planning a Zika Action Plan Summit in April at its Atlanta headquarters.
How to Avoid Mosquito Bites
- Use air conditioning or window and door screens.
- Get rid of standing water.
- Wear long sleeves and pants.
- Treat clothing with permethrin and use insect repellent.
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor