As Microcephaly Rises In Haiti, Doctors Fear Zika Is A Sleeping Giant : Goats and Soda Health care workers are anxious that Zika is spreading across the country undetected — and worry that the system is ill-equipped to deal with severe birth defects.
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Doctors Fear Zika Is A Sleeping Giant In Haiti

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Doctors Fear Zika Is A Sleeping Giant In Haiti

Doctors Fear Zika Is A Sleeping Giant In Haiti

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What you don't know may well hurt you. That, at least, is the concern of doctors in Haiti. The Caribbean nation has confirmed only five cases of Zika, far fewer than some neighboring nations, which sounds good, except that some doctors think the reason for so few confirmed cases is that Haiti is not equipped to track what is happening at all. NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Port-au-Prince covering this story. Hi, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hello.

INSKEEP: What evidence, if any, suggests that there might be more than five cases in Haiti?

BEAUBIEN: Well, just yesterday I was at a hospital and they've had three babies born with microcephaly. They've had 12 cases alone at this hospital of Guillain-Barre syndrome, another - a form of paralysis that's linked to Zika. None of these cases have actually been confirmed in a laboratory as being Zika, but the doctors there very much feel that they are.

INSKEEP: And, of course, this is damage or effects that are related to Zika. But, Jason, if you can walk into a hospital and see multiple cases, why wouldn't Haitian authorities be able to track them?

BEAUBIEN: So first, we should say that it's difficult to test for Zika. And unfortunately, Haiti is in a really difficult position. They just simply don't have the laboratory capacity to be testing numerous samples from pregnant women or from women who are coming in with symptoms of Zika. Tests simply aren't getting done. The other problem here is that the doctors have been on strike for the last four months, so people haven't been going to the public hospitals at a time which would probably be some of the peak transmission of this virus, if you look at what's been happening in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico. So for sort of a confluence of factors, these tests simply aren't getting done. And so there simply is not the information as to whether or not people really have Zika here or not.

INSKEEP: Jason, I just want to remember, this is especially dangerous for pregnant women because of the effect on their children. And women in many parts of the world who are concerned about this are taking measures to make sure that they're not bitten by mosquitoes, which are believed to spread the virus. What are women in Haiti doing in the face of this threat?

BEAUBIEN: Part of the problem here is that women in Haiti say that they can't do anything about it. They don't have mosquito repellent. There aren't teams going out and fumigating the streets to try to get rid of mosquitoes. There aren't even large campaigns to educate women about what's happening with Zika. I asked one woman who had one of these babies that was born with a really small head - you know, did she know that she was supposed to try to avoid mosquito bites during her pregnancy? And she just burst out laughing saying, you know, even if she had known, there's nothing she can do. Where she lives, she doesn't have screens on her house. And she said it's just, you know, a ridiculous idea, this idea that you just avoid mosquito bites for months on end.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Port-au-Prince. Jason, thanks.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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