Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 26/8/2016 (1689 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s been known since April Manitoba has at least two cases of the Zika virus, which causes severe brain defects in the fetus of an infected mother.
Since then, the provincial government has not updated the number of Manitobans infected by the virus, unlike other jurisdictions that promptly notify their citizens about new cases.
The Free Press learned Thursday the number of confirmed cases of Zika virus in Manitoba is five.
The current number of cases was not provided by the Manitoba government until it had been prodded for more than a day.
Alberta Health posts the number of confirmed Zika virus cases on its website, showing Alberta had 26 by Thursday. In Saskatchewan, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab responded promptly to a Manitoba media inquiry, saying his province has three confirmed cases.
Jon Gerrard, a licensed pediatrician and Liberal MLA for River Heights, said Manitoba should do better in letting the public know about the spread of Zika here.
"A Zika virus infection can have very serious consequences," he said. The virus, which is spread mainly by mosquitoes, has raised alarm bells around the world because infected mothers can give birth to babies with microcephaly, an abnormal smallness of the head associated with incomplete brain development.
"It is helpful for people to be aware of how many cases there are in Manitoba," Gerrard said. "Five is more than a doubling of what was first reported," said Gerrard, who would like to see Manitoba post the number of confirmed Zika virus cases online.
Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said his department is focusing on education — but he didn’t mention posting Zika numbers online.
"We put (out) information last week advising the public that when they are travelling to areas where there is found to be Zika virus, there are certain precautions they should take and certain precautions they should take when they come back to Manitoba. A large part has to be to get that information out."
The Public Health Agency of Canada updated the number of confirmed cases of Zika virus in Canada Thursday. It’s risen to 237 from 225 a week earlier. The federal agency will not identify where the cases were confirmed.
Canada’s neighbour to the south has been much more open. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists on its website the number of confirmed cases in each state and how the virus was transmitted.
"By having states report Zika virus infections, we are able to monitor the epidemiology and geographic spread of Zika, provide timely information regarding regional and national trends and identify geographic areas where prevention and control efforts may be needed," CDC spokesman Benjamin Haynes said.
In the U.S., Zika virus has been a reportable disease since February, he said.
In Canada, it is not yet on the list of reportable or notifiable diseases. The Public Health Agency of Canada’s list includes illnesses from anthrax to chlamydia to measles to West Nile virus, but not Zika virus.
Goertzen said he hasn’t heard Zika should be made a reportable disease here.
"At this stage, we are taking best advice from health-care providers in Manitoba and across Canada. They are indicating that it isn’t something they would be looking at," he said.
The Association of the Faculties of Medicine of Canada says the Public Health Agency of Canada selects diseases as reportable or "notifiable" based on certain characteristics including national incidence, severity, communicability, potential to cause outbreaks and preventability.
No one at the agency was available Thursday to say why Zika is not a notifiable disease in Canada and why the agency doesn’t provide a provincial breakdown similar to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S.
The Canadian agency’s weekly report online said of all 237 cases of Zika virus that have been confirmed, three have been maternal-to-fetal transmissions, including one in which the baby was born with a severe brain defect. Two have been identified as being sexually transmitted, said the agency, which would not provide anyone to comment on what its recommendation to provinces is on how to handle Zika as a sexually transmitted disease.
The number of reports of sexual transmission has been increasing, "suggesting this may not be a rare occurrence," the agency’s own Canada Communicable Disease Report said in May. The Zika virus has been detected in semen two months after acute illness, but it is not known how long it can last there or how easily the virus can be transmitted by sexual contact, the report said.
Last week, Manitoba’s chief public health officer recommended in a media bulletin that men returning from Zika-affected areas use condoms for six months. If someone picked up the Zika virus abroad and had unprotected sex with an individual in Manitoba, there is a risk that person could infect the partner.
When asked what public health officials would do if that happened — if they could contact and inform the infected partners — the provincial spokeswoman said they would have to evaluate the situation.
"The evidence around sexual transmission is evolving, and if we were presented with this situation, we would have to evaluate whether or not to invoke the relevant provisions under the Public Health Act," she said, noting all five cases of Zika virus in Manitoba so far have been travel-related and not sexually transmitted here.
Although it’s not officially reportable, each confirmed case of Zika virus has been investigated by regional public health officers, "with data collected, risk assessment performed and notification sent to the Public Health Agency of Canada."
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The provincial health department’s surveillance and communicable diseases units are notified of every Zika virus test result, whether positive or negative, she said.
"Positive cases are investigated by the responsible regional health authority, data is collected, risk assessment performed, and the Public Health Agency of Canada is notified. During public health followup of travel-related Zika virus cases, patients receive advice to prevent local transmission of Zika virus. Public health followup also ensures that local transmission (through sex), should it occur, would be rapidly identified," she said.
"A person’s sexual and reproductive history is part of the public health investigation of a Zika case — male or female. If a high-risk exposure was identified, public health would work with the case and contacts to ensure proper testing and management occurs," she said. "There are provisions under the Public Health Act that support these activities."
Goertzen said Canada has its cold climate going for it. "In terms of the potential for the strain of mosquito that carries it to be in Manitoba, one of the things we have in our favour is winter."
— with files from Kristin Annable
Carol Sanders Legislature reporter
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
As of Thursday, there were 237 confirmed cases of Zika virus in Canada, up from 225 confirmed cases Aug. 18:
232 travel-related: up from 220 reported Aug. 18
2 sexually transmitted reported Aug. 18
3 maternal-to-fetal transmissions, including one with severe neurological congenital anomalies reported Aug. 18
Health Canada won’t say in which province the confirmed cases were reported.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports on its website how many confirmed Zika cases there are in each state. So far, the states have reported 2,245 travel-associated cases, 22 sexually transmitted and 14 locally acquired mosquito-borne cases (Florida).
What is Zika?
The virus is transmitted primarily by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Most people don’t develop symptoms.
For those who do, they’re typically mild and may include fever, joint pain, rash and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Symptoms usually last from several days to a week.
Severe symptoms requiring hospitalization are uncommon and fatalities are rare.
Because there is no vaccine or treatment for the disease, preventing mosquito bites is critical to avoiding infection.
Sources: Health Canada; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living