The health ministry and the national emergency commission declared a national emergency over the zika virus Thursday.
The decree involved mainly 31cantons and also directed at dengue and chikungunya, other viruses carried by the same Aedes Aegypti mosquito vector.
Fernando Llorca, minister of Salud, characterized the declaration as preventative. He said the country has the infrastructure, human resources, training and experience to handle mosquito-borne diseases.
The cantons are: San José Central, Santa Ana, Desamparados, Alajuelita and Pérez Zeledón, in the province of San José; Alajuela Central, Atenas and Orotina, in the province of Alajuela; Sarapiquí in Heredia; Liberia, Carrillo, Santa Cruz, Nicoya, Cañas, La Cruz and Abangares in the province of Guanacaste; Puntarenas Central and the districts of Cóbano, Lepanto and Paquera, Esparza, Montes de Oro, Garabito, Parrita, Quepos, Golfito, Osa and Corredores in the province of Puntarenas; Limón Central, Pococí, Guácimo, Siquirres and Matina in the province of Limón, and Turrialba in the province of Cartago.
The emergency declaration is more technical than a call to action. Just about every government agency, national and local, are working to eliminate mosquitoes and places where they breed. Even the schools have programs to do so.
The declaration does allow the emergency commission and the ministry to collect money from private sources and to move budgeted money around to handle the emergency.
The declaration also provides the legal framework to pressure businesses and homeowners to take action against mosquitoes.
The declaration was prompted by the discovery that two women in Sámara have been infected by the virus. There has been a lot of fumigating activity on the Nicoya peninsula and in the community of Nicoya. There also has been extensive fumigating in Nosara where a Texas man might have contracted the virus in December.
The presence of zika has tourism operators nervous because of the potential impact on visitors.
Meanwhile, fear of the zika virus is intense in Brazil because of its apparent link to a birth defect. After a fact-finding mission in Brazil, Margaret Chan, who heads the World Health Organization, said the situation “can get worse before it gets better.”
Dr. Chan called the zika virus a much bigger menace than the ebola epidemic in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people, given the magnitude of zika’s spread and its possible link to microcephaly, a birth defect involving brain growth that leaves babies at risk of a host of long-term developmental issues.
Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health stressed the need for special funding to continue research on the disease, work on a vaccine against it, and help U.S. states and territories prepare for the virus’s spread. They spoke before committees in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
“We need to prepare to respond in Puerto Rico,” Dr. Schuchat said. The zika virus is circulating in Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory. “We need the rest of the U.S. to be ready, because travelers will be returning from these affected areas. And we need to work with international partners on the ground to learn as much as we can so that we can protect Americans.”
Forty million to 50 million people travel between the U.S. and Latin America each year, and the type of mosquito that carries the zika virus lives in much of the United States. While U.S. public health officials expect some transmission in the southern part of the U.S., they don’t expect zika to be a major worry. Most of the cases of zika in the U.S. have been in people who traveled to the affected regions. The Centers is investigating sexual transmission and has confirmed that a woman in Texas got the virus from a male sexual partner.