Cuba’s heralded health care system has been mobilized to stop the Zika virus from gaining a foothold in the country, and so far, the campaign appears to be a success.
The virus is spread by Aedes Aegypti, the same species of mosquito that spreads dengue, a painful and often debilitating illness.
Cuban officials have ordered mandatory fumigation of every apartment and house to kill the mosquitos. Our own apartment in Havana was fumigated today.
Medical students, Cuban and foreign alike, are being sent door to door to educate people about how to keep the mosquitos from breeding, as well as the symptoms of Zika.
Samantha Moore is a Michigan native who is studying medicine in Cuba on scholarship. She tells residents that standing water is a problem because it gives mosquitos a place to lay their eggs.
Moore says to properly educate people, you have to know the culture. For example, the fast-growing religion of Santaria requires adherents to keep water in cups or glasses as part of the spiritual practice – so Moore tells residents to put a lid on the cup or glass to keep mosquitos out.
And she explains the difference between the rash you can get from Zika, which includes the face, and the rash you can get from dengue, which is just on the torso. “Go to the hospital right away if you get a rash!” she counsels.
Moore says each visit can take a long time. Cubans are very friendly, sometimes too friendly. “They invite you in, they feed you, they want to discuss American politics with you,” she laughs. “You’re now a part of the family.”
Dr. Onasis Benito Reyes Cabellero, who works at William Soler Hospital in Havana, says Cuba has so far diagnosed a mere eight cases of Zika. Seven of the cases were foreigners and only one was a Cuban.
“When you arrive in Cuba from Venezuela, Haiti, Panama,” says Cabellero, listing some of the countries with Zika outbreaks, “a health official will ask if you have fever or other symptoms. And you must do a blood test.”
People with symptoms or whose blood tests positive for Zika are quarantined until they are no longer infectious.
Cabellero says there’s a slight upside to the war against Zika – it will likely also help to reduce cases of dengue and other diseases spread by mosquitos.
Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton and Mercedes Mejia are in Cuba this week to cover the connections between Cuba and Michigan and opportunities for the future. You can find more of their stories here.