Cuba reports no Zika transmission since March; Dengue all but eliminated

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba has successfully held off the Zika epidemic and in the process all but eliminated Dengue fever and other mosquito-carried illnesses, state-run media reported on Tuesday.

A Cuban military reservist fumigates inside a home in Havana February 22, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

Public Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda told a Council of Ministers meeting that a series of measures taken this year to eliminate the Aedes strain of mosquito that carries Zika and other viruses had drastically reduced infestations. There had been no infections, he said, since one locally transmitted case, the country’s 14th, was reported on March 15.

Cuba has called out the military to help fumigate, activated neighborhood watch groups to check there is no standing water, where the insects breed, instituted health checks at airports and other entry points to the Caribbean island, among other measures.

A source in the health ministry, with access to epidemiological data, told Reuters last week that there was no Zika transmission.

“We are all over it. Every time someone enters the country from Brazil or Venezuela or wherever and comes down with Zika, more than 20 cases so far, we isolate them and check their neighborhoods,” the source said, asking not to be identified as the information is considered classified.

The source has contradicted official reports in the past due to the individual’s concern for public health.

U.S. health officials have concluded that Zika infections in pregnant women can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.

The World Health Organization has said there is strong scientific consensus that Zika can also cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.

The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,300 cases of microcephaly that it considers to be related to Zika infections in mothers.

The United States and Cuba signed an historic agreement last week to collaborate on health issues, including Zika, as part of detente begun in December 2014.

Media quoted Health Minister Morales as stating that due to efforts to date, there were no reported cases of Chikungunya, another mosquito-spread virus, and that Dengue, endemic to the region, had been all but eliminated.

“Dengue, which when we began our intensive campaign was present in 14 provinces and the special municipality of the Isla de la Juventud, today is present in only one municipality in Guantanamo province,” he said.

Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Dan Grebler