Guantánamo base confirms first travel-related Zika case

A female Aedes aegypti mosquito acquires a blood meal on the arm of a researcher at the Biomedical Sciences Institute in the Sao Paulo's University, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
A female Aedes aegypti mosquito acquires a blood meal on the arm of a researcher at the Biomedical Sciences Institute in the Sao Paulo's University, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Add Guantánamo Navy Base to the list of places with confirmed travel-related cases of Zika.

A civilian contract worker at the base is confirmed to have contracted the virus off the island, a Navy spokesman said Friday, in the first known case of someone infected with Zika at this remote outpost.

“Someone acquired it through travel. They’re asymptomatic and they’re fine,” said Bill Dougherty, public affairs officer at the base’s higher headquarters, Navy Region Southeast, in Jacksonville.

The person who was found sick with Zika is a civilian woman who had been traveling in Jamaica. The base spokeswoman, Erika Figueroa, said in a statement the woman “was under medical supervision” and risk mitigation was under way. She was not being quarantined.

Dougherty said the base was going to use this as “an opportunity to remind folks to take the proper precautions. They’re being very proactive about it.”

The base has about 6,000 residents, including up to 2,200 troops and civilians on temporary assignment to the Pentagon’s wartime prison currently holding 76 captives. Reservists called to duty here in recent months have said their uniforms are treated with bug repellent.

Thursday, the base posted an item on its Facebook page reminding residents to protect themselves “all year round here in Guantánamo Bay” because “it is mosquito season all the time.” The advisory included a link to a video, “Helpful Tips for Mosquito Season from Navy Medicine.”

The virus, which may cause a fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, can also cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly — an underdeveloped brain and small head. It is also linked to other neurological disorders in adults. Roughly 4 in 5 infected people are asymptomatic, but its most common symptoms are mild and include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.

The disclosure comes in the middle of a two-week session of pretrial hearings in the Sept. 11 mass murder case. There are more than 100 extra troops and civilian workers here to support the effort at the war court set up in a crude tent and trailer park compound called Camp Justice. Thursday night, a truck could be seen spewing a fog-like substance thought to be a mosquito-control measure near an outdoor barbecue at Camp Justice.

The base hospital declined to say how the woman knew she had it, since she was described by the Navy as “asymptomatic,” meaning she was suffering no symptoms.

“Due to patient privacy laws, we can’t provide details,” said hospital spokeswoman Jocelyn Biggs by email.

“In general, we encourage staff to [be] smart about travel and take precautions as prevention is paramount,” she added. “And if they do travel to an area with ongoing Zika virus, they should see a health care provider if they experience any symptoms.”

Biggs added: “Quarantine is not the required protocol as the Zika virus is spread by mosquito bites and sexual transmission.”

She said the Navy Medical Research Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, California, were the base’s primary testing points.

“Zika virus testing capability employing [Centers for Disease Control]-approved diagnostic protocols is also available at Naval Medical Research Center-Asia, Naval Medical Research Unit-No. 3, and Naval Medical Research Unit-No. 6.” Navy health websites show those testing sites are in Singapore, Egypt and Peru respectively.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg