Bahrain: A strategy to combat the threat of a Zika virus outbreak in the country will be enforced today.
The two-fold plan will primarily focus on “mosquito surveillance” at Bahrain International Airport and Khalifa Bin Salman Port to rule out the risk of the insects that carry the virus from entering Bahrain through cargo.
Passengers travelling to Bahrain from affected areas will also be screened and health workers will be trained on methods to identify and handle suspected cases.
The decision announced by the Health Ministry yesterday was in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) directives, said a ministry spokesman.
The outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease in South America is being linked to severe birth defects, with WHO last week declaring the virus a global public health emergency.
WHO also urged GCC countries to take precautionary measures to prevent the spread, despite no cases of the virus being reported in the region.
It is believed to be specifically dangerous to infants, spread by the aedes aegypti mosquito which does not exist in Bahrain, but is found in neighbouring countries.
“The Health Ministry has charted a plan to ensure the necessary steps are taken to prevent the Zika virus from entering Bahrain, which will focus on two aspects,” the ministry spokesman told the GDN.
“This is in line with WHO directives and the first is the technical aspect, which is surveillance for mosquitoes in the cargos arriving in the airport and seaport.
“There have been incidents reported of mosquitoes entering the US from Japan through products in cargo, hence this move.
“However the probability for such incidents in Bahrain is very low and as we are aware there has been no case identified in the region.
“Meanwhile, checks will be intensified on those coming from endemic areas as well.
“Secondly, health workers will be issued directions and training on how to identify the presence of the virus, how to handle suspected cases and also case definitions, which is a regular update based on surveys of the cases received in hospitals.”
Health officials held several meetings last week regarding the strategy, which was attended by experts from the Public Health Directorate along with senior medics from Salmaniya Medical Complex, BDF Hospital and King Hamad University Hospital.
“This is more a follow-up plan on the existing health strategy to fight pandemics,” added the spokesman.
“We also urge the public to follow hygiene rules and avoid any kind of mosquito breeding sites in and around their homes.
“Pregnant women should take precautions if they are planning to travel to countries that recorded these cases.”
He stressed that Bahrain was in contact with relevant international and regional organisations following the Zika outbreak in 24 countries.
According to statistics, the estimated number of those affected globally could reach up to a million with almost half concentrating in South America, while estimates suggest that the number could reach 3.4m cases in the next period.
US health officials said on Monday that a widespread vaccine to combat the Zika virus will likely not be available for years.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr Anthony Fauci told reporters during a briefing at the White House that initial steps were underway but health officials believed it was “unlikely to have vaccine that’s widely available for a few years”.