PHILIPSBURG, St Maarten -- Minister of tourism, economic affairs, traffic and telecommunication (TEATT), Ingrid Arrindell, and the minister of public health, social development and labour (VSA), Emil Lee, and respective stakeholders are initiating both short-term and long-term preventative measures against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to protect both residents and visitors to St Maarten against the spread of the zika virus.
Arrindell and Lee have declared war on mosquitoes and are doing everything possible to ensure that the Department of Collective Services (CPS) is being proactive in eliminating potential mosquito breeding grounds.
The CPS has increased its alert level based on current developments in the Americas, and will increase its activities as necessary in the coming days and weeks as needed. These activities have include meeting with all stakeholders to share information about current developments in the Americas and to plan additional measures, meeting with French St Martin and Anguilla public health officials, increasing public awareness activities (via social media, government website, radio and TV talk shows, press releases, government information page, distribution of information to schools etc.); and increasing vector controls.
Preventative actions taken by St Maarten include:
• Advising members of the community to begin reporting any potential breeding areas to CPS;
• Recommending the use of on-site fogging with hand-held foggers, which will be used in high priority areas where zika, chikungunya and dengue cases are suspected. Fogging is known to be the least effective tool to combat the war against mosquitoes as it is highly costly and mosquitoes become immune to the chemicals that are being used; however, under present circumstances all possible means of combatting these mosquitoes must be used. In order to have an impact, chemicals must be switched on a continuous basis;
• The most important tools are awareness, protection, support from the community, and compliance;
• CPS has launched a communication awareness campaign on how to safeguard surroundings in order to eliminate potential breeding places. The campaign also provides awareness of the symptoms associated with the zika virus. The best methods of personal protection are to apply insect repellent and/or to wear long sleeves and long pants;
• Additional prevention measures which are being reviewed for island-wide deployment include the distribution of lethal ovitraps designed specifically to target the aegypti mosquito. These traps are claimed to have eliminated dengue in certain regions. This prevention measure has proven to be more effective than fogging.
To reduce the risk of contracting the zika virus – as well as for the other mosquito-borne viruses – St Maarten residents and visitors are urged to minimize their exposure to mosquito bites by taking the following preventive measures:
1. Use anti-mosquito devices (insecticide-treated bed nets, coils, smudge pots, spray, repellents) and wear long sleeves and long pants, especially during the hours of highest mosquito activity (early morning and late afternoon); wear light coloured clothing. The use of mosquito repellent based on a 30% DEET concentration is recommended.
2. Before using repellents, pregnant women and children under the age of 12 years should consult a physician or pharmacist.
3. Persons are also requested to keep their homes, yards, neighbourhoods and work environment free from potential mosquito breeding sites. If residents come across areas with a large mosquito population, they should notify CPS.
Since May 2015 the VSA, through the CPS, has been in communication with Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in order to set out a plan of action on how to respond if an epidemic were to affect the Caribbean region. In December 2015, the alert was given that the zika virus was impacting the region.
At the moment, the CPS has indicated that the first case of zika has been confirmed. However, there are no concrete signs that the virus was locally transmitted, as the person did travel outside St Maarten just before being tested. Government has already established a working arrangement with St Maarten Laboratory Services for the collection of samples for investigation that will then be sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for further detail analysis.
In addition, government is currently in the process of drafting letters to law firms, banks, real estate agencies, and notaries, informing them to pay closer attention to vacant properties, thereby ensuring that those properties do not become mosquito breeding grounds.