With Zika virus still spreading through different parts of the globe including the Pacific, health officials reminded residents of the Commonwealth to help its prevention by basically not getting bitten by virus-carrying mosquitoes.
In a press conference yesterday, new state epidemiologist Dr. Paul White, who recently got on board the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., said the number one prevention is to “fight the bite.”
CHCC chief executive officer Esther Muna, public health and hospital preparedness director Warren Villagomez, emergency operations center coordinator Rosita Sablan-Waldron, and laboratory director Dr. Philip Dauterman were also present during the conference.
White said that as part of the prevention phase, they are focusing on informing the public in doing as much as possible to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes as well as the importance of keeping one’s surroundings free from possible mosquito breeding grounds.
He said community engagement is important in responding to the threat of the virus as not one agency can control mosquitoes—the main form of transmission for Zika.
White also pointed out that if one gets sick, it is important to seek medical attention.
According to White, Zika comes from the same virus family as Dengue and Chikungunya with Zika being the mildest.
Symptoms of the disease include low-grade fever, muscle pain, joint pain, conjunctivitis, and mild rash.
As a self-limiting disease, Zika “of itself” is not dangerous and no mortality has been associated with it since the 1950s, according to White.
“The publicity associated with Zika at the moment is the sequelae, effects that occur from a disease, and these are the birth defects and neurological disorders,” White said.
While in Brazil, cases of microcephaly and the neurological disorder, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, are being associated with Zika affecting pregnant women, these are all still being studied and investigated.
As of now, there is no vaccine against Zika and no specific treatment is needed for the disease. When one gets infected, the symptoms are treated.
Currently in the Pacific, areas where cases have been reported include American Samoa, Marshall Islands, Samoa, and Tonga. White said Zika it is possible to come to the CNMI as well.
According to Villagomez, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coordinated with them and is focusing on initiatives such as fumigations in highly vulnerable, community-based areas such as clinics and schools.
Villagomez said they are doing a lot of risk communication and will be meeting with stakeholders and inter-agencies regarding fumigation.
With White on board, Muna stressed the importance of having an epidemiologist.
“With the threat of infectious disease and the fact that, especially with the Zika virus, it’s been going on, definitely a state epidemiologist is a very critical position in the healthcare corporation and especially in coming up with strategic plans on how to combat the spread of infectious disease,” Muna said.
“We’ve been without one for quite some time,” she added.
White was one of the responders for epidemiology services who visited Saipan after Typhoon Soudelor.