In a development that is certain to force would be mothers to rethink family plans, authorities in Barbados this week reported the first two cases of deformed babies suspected of being linked to the outbreak of the Zika virus which has been sweeping through the hemisphere in the past year.
Minister for Health John Boyce appealed for calm in the tourism-dependent island of 300,000 people as the announcement could have a negative effect on the lifeline economic sector if there is confirmation of the two cases.
He and other health officials who summoned an emergency press conference in Barbados at mid week, said thorough investigations are being carried out to determine if the microcephaly seen in the two births are definitely linked to the Zika outbreak. They also said that deformities are not unusual in births on the island.
“To date, there has been no increase in the number of new borns with microcephaly. Additionally, no children born to mothers who tested positive for Zika have been diagnosed with microcephaly,” government said.
The announcement has come as authorities in nearby Antigua have appealed to the media to be cautious in reporting on the Zika issue, mindful that inaccurate information could scare away tourists.
Government Tourism Chief Colin James said the U.S. has already issued a travel advisory for its citizens visiting Antigua because of current infections there so any inaccurate information from local media would be a cause of salt being rubbed into a bleeding wound.
“Alarmist” reporting on the topic would have adverse effects on a country predominantly dependent on tourism. Be honest, but do not be alarmist so folks won’t think it’s a rampant disease in Antigua and Barbuda, which it is not. It is a reality of today’s world.”
James wasted little time in pointing to the fact that confirmed Zika cases are present in other Caribbean Community member nations and the U.S. itself so there is nothing special about the disease in Antigua.
“We are honest as to the cases that we’ve had. We don’t want to be alarmist because we live in a 24 hours a day and seven days a week media age, particularly in the online arena. We have to ensure that we are as honest, but yet as responsible as possible with the communication,” James said.
The Barbados government missive in the meantime, spoke to pregnant women who are infected being monitored by state health officials and clinics but the two who gave birth at the state-owned Queen Elizabeth Hospital were not among those who were monitored by doctors.
“Currently, 14 pregnant women have been identified with the Zika Virus. Of these, seven have given birth and there were no obvious birth defects detected in those babies. The ministry of health further urges pregnant women and women of child-bearing age to be especially careful and to take all necessary steps to protect themselves from mosquito bites as the rainy season progresses.”
Authorities have not yet released the identities of the two mothers but have promised to do so even as there is widespread speculation that the deformities could be linked to Zika.
Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and other bloc member nations have all have confirmed cases among their populations but doctors in none of the countries have as yet reported instances of microcephaly in new births.