Puerto Rico Vector Control Unit holds 1st annual symposium
SAN JUAN – To date, more than 40,000 cases and seven deaths have been attributed to the Zika virus since record-keeping began in Puerto Rico, according to experts at the first international symposium led by the Puerto Rico Vector Control Unit (PRVCU), “Challenges and Solutions for Aedes Aegypti Control.”
Doctors, scientists and healthcare sector representatives came to Puerto Rico from countries such as Brazil and Singapore to participate in the conference.
The Vector Control Unit (PRVCU) is an initiative of the private non-profit Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust, established to leverage the island’s capacity to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the vector for the diseases Zika, chikungunya and dengue.
Through events such as this, the Vector Control Unit seeks to advance its mission, which came about via a $14 million, five-year collaborative agreement between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Science Trust, in collaboration with the Puerto Rico Health Department.
Lucy Crespo, the Science Trust’s chief executive officer, said that one of the most anticipated panels of the symposium was the impact of the Aedes aegypti mosquito in Puerto Rico, in which panelists analyzed how economic and social sectors have been affected by outbreaks of diseases caused by this vector. The panel comprised Dr. José Rigau Pérez MD, MPH; Dr. Manuel F. Lluberas MS IDHA, a public health entomologist; and Clarisa Jiménez, president and chief executive officer of the Hotel and Tourism Association of Puerto Rico.
During the panel, it was announced that “41,000 Zika cases have been confirmed, 4,000 pregnancies, seven deaths, 72 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome and 50 births with congenital malformations” have been registered in Puerto Rico thus far. It was also said that 45 tourism groups canceled their visit to the island, which meant a loss of 67,840 hotel room nights, or $59.2 million.
Among the conclusions presented by Rigau Pérez, he said the risk of more and worse epidemics continues.
“There is no easy or permanent solution. Each society has to identify its weak flanks and renew their protection tools against Aedes aegypti,” he added.
The exchange of knowledge that occurred during the event also represented an opportunity to learn about the effectiveness of control and management methods used stateside and in other countries such as Brazil, Singapore, Mexico and Panama.
There was also discussion about the role of technology such as the use of drones and geographic information systems (GIS) in the effort. Among the control methods presented was the sterile insect technique, “which has been used successfully for the control of pests in agriculture, and the use of biological larvicides that are aimed at eliminating the larva of the mosquito,” according to a release.
Another topic of interest at the symposium was the role of citizens in helping control the mosquito population.
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to reflect that the data provided at the symposium are of records to date.