Woke up this morning with my mind set on Cuba, but then there's Zika ...
- 05/16/2016 by Linda Perry (WBAI News)

"Woke up this morning with my mind set on Cuba .. "

In advance of joining Code Pink’s May delegation to Cuba, I armed myself with insect repellents against the mosquito which carries the Zika virus. At Gary Null’s health food store, I bought Buzz Away and After Bite. At CVS I purchased a DEET-free wristband, and at Duane Reed I finally found a repellent with a smell I could tolerate—a Cutter brand formula which didn’t say DEET-free but touted its aloe and vitamin E formula, which the bottle says moisturizes skin. That’s 1, 2, 3, 4 items in my arsenal against Zika. Over cautious perhaps, but mosquitoes love me. I’m the kind of person who always gets bitten, and with research which is beginning to show it may not only be affecting women who are pregnant, there was enough to make me cautious.

So what happened in Cuba…(Music up)…in the vicinity where the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which carries the Zika virus, has been found…nothing, nada, not one bite. None of what I brought with me was even opened. That’s because for the past two months the Cuban government has carried out extensive fumigation in buildings where people live and congregate and outside of buildings, and they’ve released fog with insecticide in the streets of Cuba. More than 9,000 soldiers, police, and university students engage in this effort to stamp out the mosquitoes.

And as you travel throughout Cuba you see warnings of fumigation, which is done every two weeks. There are pipes above buildings, which deliver the pesticide.

Dr. Carmello who is head of Cuba’s Department of International Health Control, says no DEET is used, but for at least some activists on the Code Pink delegation like Catherine West from Arkansas, this is very concerning:

“That seems a terrific risk, those chemicals, to kill mosquitoes so although I know they have good intentions, I certainly—it seems like they didn’t quite—they went overboard on that one and didn’t quite think it through. I remember living in the South when I was a child, I remember them taking the trucks down the street trying to kill the mosquitoes that were in the ponds and stuff, and it was very detrimental to people’s health. And maybe I’m being silly about it, maybe there are chemicals but any kind of fumigation or smoke or aerosol spray that’s put into the air—it has serious effects, especially for young people or ill people.”

Meanwhile the Health ministry in Cuba is careful to monitor visitors coming in, especially from Venezuela and Brazil and Cubans who leave and return to Cuba.

Clip, Dr. Carmello: “For days we haven't heard of any case of—any important case of Zika virus. Again, we have the surveillance over the people who come into the healthcare system with any kind of fever.”

The result so far is only 10 cases of Zika in Cuba, where in surrounding nations cases are in the hundreds even in the thousands. Do Cubans have any choice? No, not really, but there are some with asthma and other ailments who have managed to pass on the fumigation, where officials have looked the other way. So, in Cuba, the birds are still flying but I didn’t see any insects in the air.

Meanwhile here in the U.S., Major League Baseball and the players' union cancelled the Pittsburg Pirates-Miami Marlins series, which was to be played in Puerto Rico.

“It’s offensive to Puerto Ricans.”

Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Padilla. He’s talking to C-SPAN about the cancelled game, which was to be played on Roberto Clemente day, May 31st. 

“Because Roberto Clemente died, because he tried to get humanitarian help to Nicaragua after a huge earthquake, and there was plagues there—there was people dead in the streets. Their infrastructure was completely destroyed, but he tried to get there and today's baseball player are saying 'no' to Puerto Rico. To come here and just to try to promote Puerto Rico a little and move the economy a little, showing up for some games here in Puerto Rico, in honor to Clemente that died that way. And they say 'no' to a mosquito? You know, it's offensive—it's just ignorance.”

Meanwhile, by the middle of May there were 925 confirmed Zika cases in Puerto Rico. It’s nowhere near the number in Brazil, the epicenter of the outbreak, or in Venezuela with 4,700 cases reported. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control predicts an astounding 20% of the Island’s 3.5 million people will likely contract Zika this year alone.

Dr. Margaret Chan is Director General of the World Health Organization. She says there is scientific consensus that the Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly—children being born with unusually small heads—and other brain malformations and disorders in babies born to women who were infected with Zika virus during pregnancy, but also Guillain-Barré syndrome—it’s a rare, serious neurological disorder which could lead to paralysis and death.

“Twelve countries and territories have now reported an increased incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome—all laboratory confirmation of Zika infection among Guillain-Barré syndrome cases. Additional effects on the central nervous system have been documented, notably inflammation of the spinal cord and inflammation of the brain and its membranes.

"The virus is currently circulating in 38 countries and territories. On present knowledge, no one can predict whether the virus will spread to other parts of the world and cause a similar pattern of fetal malformations and neurological disorders. If this pattern is confirmed beyond Latin America and the Caribbean, the world will face a severe public health crisis.”

And yet the U.S. congress is holding up money needed to fight the Zika virus here in the U.S. House minority leader from California, Nancy Pelosi:

“Last month house Republicans voted twice to block emergency funding, and it’s just a remarkable thing—that this is a threat. It’s going to even get worse as we get into the warmer weather.”

Meanwhile the WHO has issued a travel advisory for athletes and travelers planning to attend the Olympic games in Brazil this August. They advised a series of steps to guard against the Zika virus. One doctor noted though that by then it will be winter in Brazil. Here in New York State, Dr. Howard Zucker says the state has launched a 6-point Zika action plan:

“Number 1, we will eliminate Zika at its source: the state will distribute 100,000 larvicide tablets. Number 2, we will aggressively monitor with special trapping and testing. Number 3, we will provide free Zika protection kits to pregnant women. Number 4, we will deploy a rapid response team. Number 5, we will issue emergency regulations requiring local Zika control plans upon Zika confirmation. Number 6, we will launch aggressive public awareness campaigns.”

So far, there are at least 50 cases of Zika in New York State. The specific mosquito which transmits the virus is about 3 to 5% of the mosquito population in New York State. They are most active in the daytime. The state has devised a system though to trap and study these mosquitos.

“Can I show you how the traps work?”

New York State is deploying 1000 traps per month to test 60,000 Aedes mosquitos at the Wadsworth Laboratories in Albany.

Dr. Zucker “It’s attracted to certain colors, so black and white is a color the Aedes mosquito is attracted to. Also to human scent and so there are certain chemicals, little pellets, that are put into the trap between the fan and the top here, which has a human scent that brings the mosquito in. The third area is that there are dry ice container inside. Dry ice usually releases carbon dioxide and we breathe out carbon dioxide, so the mosquito’s attracted to that as well."

For more on what NYS is doing, and if you need those larvicide tablets for any still water you may have on your property go to ny.gov/zika or call 1-888-364-4723. Again that’s 1-888-364-4723. 

Meanwhile, NYC has doubled the number of mosquito traps placed across the city. And the city has donated one million condoms to Puerto Rico to help Zika prevention efforts over there.

With thanks to Dee Shore for help transcribing this script, Linda Perry, WBAI News, NY

headline photo
Aedes Aegypti Mosquito Carries the Zika Virus