Latin America, United States
With the recent Zika outbreak in Florida and the spread of the disease in more countries and territories, AmeriCares is expanding its efforts to educate families on how to prevent the disease while providing supplies to help protect them from mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus.
In the southern United States and Puerto Rico, AmeriCares is providing 300,000 cans of OFF!® aerosol repellent to protect low-income and uninsured families from mosquitoes that could be carrying the Zika virus this summer. The repellent, donated by SC Johnson, is being delivered free of charge to clinics, health departments and nonprofit partners. This latest donation is in addition to an earlier distribution of repellent in the U.S. and El Salvador this spring.
Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, where infection rates are highest, AmeriCares is working to ensure hospitals and clinics have the medicine, supplies and support for prevention programs to address the intensifying health crisis and provide the best possible care. AmeriCares has already supported more than 150 medical teams travelling to the region, providing them with donate medicines and supplies as well as education materials.
In El Salvador, where AmeriCares operates a primary care clinic that serves 60,000 patients a year including prenatal patients, the organization is caring for patients with suspected infections and educating patients on how to prevent infection. AmeriCares is also supporting vector-control efforts in El Salvador, as well as providing protection kits with repellent, bed nets and educational materials to pregnant women in Colombia, El Salvador and Haiti.
The World Health Organization first declared an international public health emergency on February 1, 2016 because of a suspected link between the virus and microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with unusually small heads and abnormal brain development. Since that time, the association between the increase in babies born with microcephaly, other possible birth defects and the incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome has coincided with the growing number of Zika virus infections. Currently, more than 60 countries and territories in the Americas have reported Zika cases. The World Health Organization has said women in countries where the virus is circulating should consult with their physicians before becoming pregnant because of the risk of irreversible birth defects.
There is no cure or vaccine for Zika, but clinicians can help patients manage symptoms, giving them medicine to reduce fever and pain. They can also provide education on how to protect their families from the mosquitos that carry the virus.
“It is important to not only care for patients suspected to have the virus, but also to educate families in high-risk communities on how they can stay safe,” said AmeriCares Medical Officer Dr. Julie Varughese, an expert in infectious diseases. “Eliminating mosquito breeding grounds, wearing protective clothing and applying insect repellent all reduce the risk of transmission.”
The AmeriCares Family Clinic in Santiago de Maria, El Salvador, began tracking suspected Zika infections in early December in coordination with the Ministry of Health. In the first two months, La Clínica Integral de Atención Familiar reported just 15 cases – an indication of how uncommon it is for patients to develop symptoms. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in five patients infected with the Zika virus experiences symptoms; far fewer experience the complications that have raised concerns from health officials worldwide.
The El Salvador Clinic continues to strengthen its Zika intervention programs. The clinic is modifying its educational and training materials on vector-borne diseases for target groups in the community at high risk of Zika, including pregnant women, women of childbearing age and mothers who have had Zika symptoms during pregnancy. In addition, AmeriCares has delivered medicine, supplies and hygiene products to six hospitals in the National Health System of El Salvador, including those serving large numbers of pregnant women and reporting a high incidence of Zika cases.
“Prenatal patients are the most concerned because of the suspected link to birth defects,” said Dr. Anibal Quijano, the clinic’s medical director. “We have seen a significant increase in ultrasound exams because expectant mothers want to see their babies and get reassurance that they are developing normally.”
AmeriCares Zika response leverages the technical expertise of our health experts and our more than 30 years of experience with international health crises. AmeriCares has responded to mosquito-borne disease outbreaks in the past, from West Nile in the United States to chikungunya in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2014, during an outbreak of chikungunya, our response included support for a community health education campaign that reached more than 10,000 people in El Salvador through schools, sporting events and community centers.