New tropical virus could spread to Ecuador from Colombia, health officials warn; coastal areas are at special risk due to oncoming El Niño
Even as they struggle to control the rapidly spreading Chikungunya virus, Ecuadorian health agencies are on alert for another mosquito-borne virus.
The African Zika virus, which shows similar symptoms as Chikungunya and dengue, is reported to be spreading in coastal areas of Colombia, just north of the Ecuadorian border. The World Health Organization says that the first Zika cases in Latin America were reported last year in Chile and Brazil and that the diseasespread to Colombia in 2015. “Zika is transmitted in tropical areas by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, and can be extremely painful to victims,” says the WTO.
The WTO says that detection of cases of Zika is easier than with Chikungunya and dengue since one of the early symptoms is a rash. “Zika’s rash turns the skin red and sometimes white before it disappears,” says the WTO. “Those living in coastal and low-lying areas who observe the rash should seek medical assistance as soon as possible.”
Unlike Chikungunya and dengue, Zika although accompanied by fever and severe joint pain, is almost never fatal. Early symptoms are conjunctivitis, headaches and skin rashes that occur five to 10 days after a person has been infected. In some cases, the virus can cause temporary paralysis, generally moving from the feet, up the legs.
On October 16, Ecuador’s Ministerio de Salud Pública issued a epidemiological alert for Zika.
Meanwhile, health officials worry about the continued spread of Chikungunya in Ecuador’s coastal provinces. Despite a public health information campagian, the number of reported cases of ther disease has risen from 8,191 in May to 42,483 last week. There have been at least nine deaths from the virus.
Almost all of the reported cases of Chikungunya in Ecuador are in Manabi, Guayas, El Oro, Esmeraldas, Santa Elena and Los Rios Provinces.
“Unfortunately, the spread of Chikungunya has received little notice recently in the press, but it is spreading rapid. It has been overshadowed by news of the volcanoes and political events,” says infectious diseases specialist, David Larreátegui. “We are extremely concerned that an El Niño could cause an explosion in the number of cases.”
According the Ministry of Health, mosquitoes carrying the Zika, Chikungunya and dengue viruses, live at elevations below 5,500 feet. There have been no reported cases in Ecuador’s sierra region.