Aedes aegypti mosquito (Photo by James Gathany via Wikimedia Commons)

With the arrival of the Zika virus in Puerto Rico, both CRECE and PROTECT (Puerto Rico Testsite for Environmental Contamination Threats) have begun reaching out to participants, healthcare professionals, and local communities to provide education and support. Zika, which originated in Africa and spread to South America in 2015, is similar to dengue, another tropical disease also spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Aedes aegypti is an aggressive species that frequently breeds in standing water in and around the home, and is most active during the day. While the Zika virus typically causes only mild flu-like symptoms in its hosts, it has been implicated in Brazil’s sudden spike of newborn microcephaly cases in 2015 (from 146 cases in 2014 to nearly 4,000 in 2015). Microcephaly is a rare condition, occurring in about 2 per 10,000 livebirths, in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age. The condition is linked to severe developmental delays and life-long disability.

In January, Puerto Rico confirmed its first case of Zika contracted domestically; to date, nineteen total cases have been confirmed. Our team has begun reaching out to healthcare providers to ensure that our participants—about 150 pregnant women—are informed about the virus and have all the materials they need to minimize the risk of exposure. CRECE is also distributing mosquito nets for both pregnant mothers and newborn children.

On February 11th, PROTECT and CRECE are co-hosting an information session for local physicians, nurses, and healthcare professionals at the Manatí Medical Center, one of the clinics participating in both research centers. This event will be videotaped so the presentation can be shared more widely. Both CRECE and PROTECT are also collaborating with the March of Dimes, the CDC, and the Puerto Rico Department of Health in a presentation in San Juan on February 18th, which is expected to draw physicians and healthcare professionals from 32 hospitals around Puerto Rico. These events will focus on best practices for avoiding exposures and the warning signs of both Zika and microcephaly.

CRECE’s Dr. José Cordero joined NPR’s “Here & Now” program on February 3rd to discuss what Puerto Rico is doing to halt the spread of the Zika virus. Listen to his interview here.