Zika: Prevention key to keeping mosquitoes at bay

What seemed like a routine visit to the maternal and child clinic for some 25 pregnant women quickly turned into an informative session on Zika virus. As soon as leaflets arrived at the Sigatoka hospital on Friday morning, nurses wasted no time in picking up copies and explaining the importance of prevention of the Zika virus to the group.

“Zika Virus – protect yourself and your family” provides ways to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes especially during the day through the use of insect repellents, wearing light coloured long sleeves tops and long skirts or pants. Those who rest during the day should do so in screened rooms or under a mosquito net.

“I’ve heard it’s like dengue and my in-laws have been talking about Zika because of what’s happening in Brazil. I don’t know very much about Zika so this leaflet is timely,” said Liku Nagusuva.

While some women in the room are aware about the cases of Zika reported in the Western division here in Fiji, many were not sure about the signs and symptoms. “I heard you can get quite mild fever and sometimes a rash. Now the information here is clear so at least I know what to look out for and what I can do,” said Nia Naidu, a mother of two who intends to share the information with her family and neighbours.

After a nurse at the Maternal and Child clinic had explained to the group how Zika is spread and what can be done to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes, the mothers-to-be read the leaflet and asked questions about Zika prevention. Liku asked if a vaccine is available and wanted to know more about the use of insect repellents.

There is no vaccine available for Zika virus. The virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito which is active during the day and is believed to cause relatively minor symptoms including rash, fever, headaches and joint pain. Zika can spread quickly without warning in part because most infected people have mild symptoms or none at all. Pregnant women and women planning pregnancy are the main focus of prevention messages because there is now scientific consensus that the Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly (an abnormally small head) in babies Outbreaks of Zika virus in some countries have been linked to an increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly and other fetal malformations.

In an effort to keep the public, in particular pregnant women, aware of the virus, Fiji’s Ministry of Health and Medical Services is implementing the Fiji Zika Virus Action Plan. Activities include distributing leaflets and posters on Zika virus to health centres. This took place in Sigatoka, Nadi and Lautoka on Friday. Health centres in the Central, Eastern and Northern divisions will receive the materials in the coming days. Radio messaging on the virus is on-going and it’s hoped many more Fijians will do their part in preventing the virus from affecting themselves and their families by preventing mosquito bites and preventing mosquito breeding. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant waters so cleaning up the environment is important through getting rid of objects where water collects around the home such as tyres, empty containers, plastic bottles and coconut shells, tipping out stagnant water in containers that can’t be thrown out or covering them up, changing water in pot plants and vases once a week and making sure roof guttering and drains around the house are clear.

Information on Zika is also clearly visible at the arrival halls at the Nadi and Nausori airports and the wharfs at Suva and Lautoka.

Every day Fiji welcomes hundreds if not thousands of tourists to its islands and the stand-up banners which indicate the symptoms and signs of Zika, ways to prevent mosquito bites and how to manage someone who might have the virus, provide important information for all to keep safe from mosquitoes while enjoying their holiday.

For more information, please contact:

Ms Shima Roy
Risk Communications Consultant
Division of Pacific Technical Support, Suva, Fiji
Phone: +679 717 6051

Ms Joy Rivaca Caminade
Technical Officer (Risk Communications)
Division of Health Security and Emergencies
Email: caminadej@wpro.who.int