Expats organize against zika to save surfing games

A group of expats and others are seeking to create a sustained effort to halt the growing number of zika virus cases in the Jacó area. The outbreak threatens the World Surfing Games and the $36 million it is expected to bring to the local tourism economy, they said.

Robert Sinclair, representing the expat effort, said Wednesday that not enough resources are being directed to stem the epidemic.

Meanwhile, the Ministerio de Salud reported that 31 cases of zika have been confirmed in the canton of Garabito where the central Pacific community of Jaco is located. One case is that of a women in her 25th week of pregnancy, the ministry said.

The canton also suffered from 367 cases of chikungunya and 465 cases of dengue already this year, ministry statistics show. The three diseases are spread by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Sinclair said that he and fellow expats attended a meeting Tuesday with Rodrigo Marín Rodríguez, the national coordinator of disease-spreading organisms. Sinclair said that the epidemiologist said that existing resources and efforts are insufficient.

So the residents are trying to enlist volunteers to join the campaign. “The Jaco community needs to get behind a sustained effort to stop this advancing pandemic,” Sinclair said.  “Unchecked, the impact of the zika virus on local and national tourism could be devastating if one considers the downturn in Rio Olympics tourist attendance.”

The games are supposed to be in August with thousands expected to attend.

Sinclair said that he and his associates were using social media to develop a sustainable program to eradicate the spread of the zika virus in the Jaco area and address the immediate need for protecting participants and the expected 100,000 visitors to the surfing games. He said that the group provided food and water to the zika response team Wednesday morning.

The ministry said that in Garabito alone its

crews visited 5,000 homes and conducted
32,400 separate fumigations. Many homes have been fumigated up to four times. Crews also eliminated or treated 33,000 locations where mosquito larvae could grow into adults, the ministry said. The report Wednesday said that 468 of these locations tested positive for mosquito larvae.

Despite the unusually dry weather this year, mosquitoes seem to have thrived. The ministry reports 1,410 cases of  chikungunya and 6,660 cases of dengue already this year. The bulk of the cases are in 16 cantons.

Throughout the country, the health ministry said that crews visited more than 304,000 homes and eliminated more than 12,000 breeding spots that tested positive to larvae.

Garabito has the most cases of zika in the country and is second after Abangares for the number of chikungunya cases. The canton ranks eighth in dengue cases after Atenas, Parrita, Nandayure, Osa, Aguirre, Alajuela Centro and Cañas.

Other cantons with zika cases are Nicoya with eight, Carrillo with one and Alajuelita with four. The ministry also said there are seven confirmed zika cases and one probable case that have been imported from other countries.

In Jaco, as A.M. Costa Rica has reported, the bulk of the cases are in the Pueblo Nuevo area.

Marin, the epidemiologist, heads the department that maintains the statistical data base. He is on record calling the Aedes aegypti mosquito the favorite household pet of Costa Ricans.

Sinclair said the physician outlined a campaign to mobilize paid staff and volunteers to help clean up garbage and refuse where the zika-carrying mosquitoes breed and launch an aggressive public awareness program.

Roughly 40 people now from the health ministry are working 12-hour days fumigating, picking up trash and going door-to-door looking for mosquito breeding grounds, Sinclair said the physician reported.

Volunteers will undergo induction and training before going out in the field, Sinclair added.

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