Orville Taylor: Zikaware ... she’ll soon be here
It's another nasty four-letter word associated with females who have no concern for anything but sucking their fill of your blood. ZIKV, the Zika virus, is one of those generally mild microorganisms that knock you down for a few days and, more often than not, leaves with no lasting symptoms.
For all the hullabaloo, this virus is not a true stranger. First isolated in a rhesus monkey in Uganda in 1947, It belongs to the flavivirus family and is closely related to that which causes the various types of dengue and chikungunya, which made its entry into Jamaica with devastating effect in 2014, or, if we are to believe the critics of Dr Fenton Ferguson, 2013. The problem is: We have limited ability to know what this new plague is.
Let's cut the crap! There are no symptoms that are peculiar to ZIKV. If you have it, you might not even know. First of all, like the average one-fourth of 'jacket' Jamaican children, a fifth of persons who have ZIKV show no symptoms. However, they still have and can spread it. Moreover, the incubation period ranges between three and seven days. Symptoms are described as non-purulent conjunctivitis, arthralgia, myalgia, asthenia, maculo-papular rash, and fever.
In order to avoid additional stress in pronouncing the strange words or trying to understand them, the language will be simplified. This disease, which is now a basis for postponing pregnancy, is manifested by non-pussy red eyes, muscular and joint pains and general weakness, along with the other ones that you clearly understand.
No lab exists - not even the ones on my plantation, the University of the West Indies (UWI), and certainly, none of the government labs in Jamaica is capable of testing for ZIKV. Thus, what doctors have to rely on is clinical diagnoses from the physical signs. In other words, doctors simply have to guess.
Furthermore, given that it is a virus, and, like the overwhelming majority of viruses, it has no cure or vaccine, only the discomfort can be treated. Truth is, unless one is being given acyclovir, the herpes anti-viral drug, which has proven to be effective in the reduction of chik-V symptoms and duration, the regular cocktail of paracetamol or acetaminophen, rest, juices and proper nutrition is the only remedy. Therefore, spending money to actually confirm the cases really helps the statisticians, but not the patients - present or future. What we therefore have to do is assume that ZIKV is already here and act to reduce its spread.
One can demonise consultant paediatrician and paediatric and congenital cardiologist, Dr Sandra Williams-Phillips, as much as one wishes, but based on the rule of thumb, she is very justified in saying that it is already here. Have a look on the outbreak map provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO). We are surrounded by 20 countries, where ZIKV has been detected and confirmed. These include Haiti, our second-nearest neighbour; Panama; Mexico; Barbados; and Puerto Rico. Mosquitoes do not require visas, and if someone is bitten, the infection can be passed on across national boundaries.
Thankfully, the official information has caught up with the facts, and instead of the 2014 declaration that the vector of the virus, our hard-working Aedes Aegypti, is a day biter, we now know that she works under flexitime, which, interestingly, is now the remit of Ferguson. I started writing this commentary at 2 a.m. and returned to it at 8:30 before finally finishing it at 2 p.m. During this period, a set of mosquitoes with white-striped leg warmers kept playing tag with me. Singing in my ears like the discordant Sister Brown, whose stature forces her on to the choir, the Aedes Aegypti residents gave the lie to the 2014 official truth that this mosquito is mostly diurnal.
It typically likes small, steady pools of relatively clean water, and, like heterosexual female humans, do not like gullies. However, objects such as paint tins, wash pans, and motor vehicle tyres, oftentimes discarded there, are preferred. Indeed, an impressive study coming from the UWI's Department of Life Sciences shows that tyres are so desired by the creatures that they flock them like political activists swarm construction projects. This has great potential for further research and control strategies.
A justifiable fear exists over the correlation between the incidents of ZIKV and the spike in microcephaly, based on evidence from the disease's epicentre, Brazil. This congenital birth defect is manifested by an abnormally small head and brain, with associated slow or reduced cerebral and social development. Thus, like the American Centers for Disease Control (CDC), our health ministry has told us to delay getting pregnant for the next six to 12 month,s or, if already 'in sprig', take exceptional precautions in avoiding being bitten by this bloodsucker. Nonetheless, unless there is something that the Brazilian government, the CDC and WHO/PAHO are not telling us, we cannot positively say that the virus caused the microcephaly. Is it possible that there was previous biological experimentation which the Zika virus merely exacerbated?
Notwithstanding this, we must individually take responsibility. Therefore, no receptacle, from bottle caps to wash tubs, should be left with water, and lily ponds must have small fish. Where practical or prudent, we should cover up. Amusing, but plausible, skin bleachers might be at an advantage because they usually wear copious layers of clothing in order to make the complexion 'come'.
Still, the sustainable solution is for us understand the dynamic of our environment and the interrelationship of species. Being asthmatic, anything with fog makes me uncomfortable, and it only affects the mosquitoes on top surfaces. Fogging has little effect on those who hide under the bottom of objects. There is talk of introducing genetically modified mosquitoes from Brazil to interbreed with our natives and thus create only male offspring. I resist the temptation to think there is another agenda at play here, but I am particularly scared of Brazilian entomologists who decades ago unleashed the Africanised killer bees after their flopped experimentation.
We need to focus on natural predators here in Jamrock.Our innocuous dragonfly, susceptible to carelessly used pesticides, is a major mosquito scourge. Frogs, the little ones who sing like crickets, and toads, who hold notes like Sister Brown, are all strong allies. Add to them the daddy long legs spiders and, of course, our croaking lizards and we will save by not switching from gecko.
This is a time for national consensus, because the only colour the Aedes likes is black, and she is colour-blind to green and orange.
- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.