Tag Archives: ZIKA Virus


By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, Associated Press, March 16, 2016

zzzzz2A female Aedes aegypti mosquito in the process of acquiring a blood meal from a human host.  Photo from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (AP)

(AP) — Cuban officials announced Tuesday night that they have detected the first case of the Zika virus transmitted inside the country, ending Cuba’s status as one of the last nations in the hemisphere without domestic cases of the disease that has been linked to birth defects.

State media said a 21-year-old Havana woman who had not traveled outside Cuba was diagnosed with the virus after suffering headaches, fatigue and other symptoms. On Monday, her blood tested positive for Zika. She remains hospitalized.

Cuba had previously reported a handful of cases of the disease in people who had traveled to countries with outbreaks of the mosquito-borne virus, particularly Venezuela, and appeared to have contracted it there.

Cuba has close ties to Venezuela, a fellow socialist country that sends hundreds of millions of dollars a year in subsidized oil in exchange for Cuban medical assistance that sees many thousands of people travel between the two countries annually.

Zika is being investigated as a possible agent in cases of microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with unusually small heads and brain damage, and also in cases of Guillain-Barre, a rare condition that sometimes results in temporary paralysis.

Cuba has thrown more than 9,000 soldiers, police and university students into an effort to fumigate for mosquitoes, wipe out the standing water where they breed and prevent a Zika epidemic.

President Raul Castro has called on the nation to battle lax fumigation and trash collection, turning the Zika fight into a test of the communist government’s once-legendary ability to marshal the entire country behind efforts ranging from civil defense to bigger sugar harvests to disease prevention.

In recent days the streets of Havana have been crisscrossed by teams of green-clad soldiers fumigating houses with mosquito-killing fog. Residents of the capital say fumigators no longer accept excuses of allergies or requests to spray some other day, as frequently happened in the past.

Still, neighborhoods like Central Havana, where the patient in Tuesday’s case lives, are filled with decaying buildings, piles of uncollected trash and pools of standing water.

The Zika announcement comes at a moment of intense international attention on Cuba: President Barack Obama arrives on Sunday as the first sitting U.S. president to visit in nearly 90 years. The Obama administration on Tuesday announced that it was carving a series of broad new exceptions into the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, removing limits on individual travel that experts predicted would lead to a boom in U.S. visitors.



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By Arch Ritter, March 14, 2016

Tourism has been the spectacular growth sector for Cuba since the beginning of the “Special Period” in 1990.  Tourist numbers have increased 10-folds in the quarter-century from 1990 to 2015, as illustrated in Chart 1.  Foreign exchange earnings from tourism have increased correspondingly.  Canada has been by far the largest source of tourists. Indeed, Cuba’s best friend throughout the “Special Period” has been the Canadian winter.

Now with full normalization of U.S. – Cuban relations “en route,” huge prospective increases in U.S. tourism will have major impacts on Canada but also perhaps on other Caribbean tourist destinations.  What might these impacts be?

Chart 1. International Tourist Arrivals, 1990-2015, Thousands. y Source: Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas, Government of Cuba, various issues, Access3ed February 23, 2016

The Coming U.S. Tourism “Tsunami” to Cuba!

Full normalization of U.S. – Cuban relations in time will bring unrestricted travel for U.S. citizens to Cuba. This will lead to a deluge of US visitors. Among the varieties of U.S. tourists would be the following:

  • Curiosity tourists. There will be a huge tourist influx of US citizens wanting to see Cuba for the first time since 1961. Relatively few US citizens appear to have broken US travel restrictions so that the pent-up demand is enormous.
  • Family Reunification tourists. When all controls are lifted on the US side for travel to Cuba, a further increase in short-term visits by Cuban-Americans for family purposes is likely to occur – following major increases already.
  • Sun, Sea and Sand tourists. Many US citizens, especially from the North Eastern and Central parts of the country will likely follow the winter-escaping Canadians to Cuban beaches for one to two week periods.
  • “Snow-bird” tourists. Some US citizens, mainly retirees, will spend several of the winter months in Cuba.
  • Retirement tourists. With normal U.S.- Cuban relations, some citizens of the northern part of the United States, especially Cuban-Americans in new Jersey, may decide to reside for half the year or so in Cuba returning to the U.S. for the other half of the year or even the whole year in Cuba, if their pensions permit it.   Permitting the purchase of time share condominiums would facilitate both snowbird and part-time retirement tourism.
  • Medical tourists. There may be some travel to Cuba for access to medical services which will likely continue to be inexpensive relative to the United States.
  • Convention tourists. Short-term visits for conventions could increase significantly.
  • Cultural and Sport tourists. One might expect more visits for purposes of interacting with and experiencing Cuban art, music, cinema, and sports.
  • Educational tourists. It is likely that American students and teachers at various levels would enroll or visit Cuban institutions of higher learning or cultural and sports centers for courses, years abroad, sabbaticals, language training etc., in much greater numbers than have been possible under the embargo.
  • March-Breaker” tourists. Students from the US are likely to try a visit to Cuba for the March Break, instead of the Maya Riviera, Florida or elsewhere.

One can only guess at the future volumes of U.S. tourists to Cuba. One could imagine it quickly doubling the 2015 Canadian level (1,300,092 tourist arrivals) and then redoubling again to 5.2 million and then beyond, as Cuba’s capacity to accommodate more tourists expanded. The total number of tourists then could reach about 8 million by 2022 – or many more if tourism from other countries also increases and does not get “squeezed out.”  (However, U.S. “curiosity tourism” will peak and then subside over the next four or five years following complete normalization.)

This would perhaps lead to an increase Cuba’s total foreign exchange earnings from tourism to about $US 8.0 to 9.0 billion by 2022, up from the estimated level of $US 2.98 billion in 2015 (extrapolating from ONE’s 2014 statement of tourism earnings and 2015 total numbers of tourists.)  This would replace the foreign exchange earnings and the semi-obscured subsidization that Cuba has been receiving from Venezuela which looks totally unsustainable at this time.

The expansion of tourism is great news for Cuba, and will lead to

  • increased foreign exchange earnings for the country,
  • a construction boom in resorts and tourist facilities,
  • a major increase in incomes for the growing private sector servicing tourism (bed and breakfasts, restaurants, travel and guide services among others),
  • higher tax revenues of many sorts, and
  • generalized improvement as real incomes of citizens improve.

The downside is that success in the tourism sector may reduce the urgency of reviving the manufacturing sector which is still operating at close to 50% of the level it had achieved in 1988 before the economic meld-down.

 Will “El Cheapo” Canadian Tourism be Squeezed Out?

Will the increase in U.S. tourism to Cuba crowd out the Canadian tourists who constituted 37% of all tourists to Cuba in 2015%.  Maybe. But U.S. “curiosity tourism” will most likely focus on Havana and the historical areas of Cuba rather than the beaches so that the Canadians at the beach resorts would not be pushed out for some time, at least mot physically!

 yy Source: ONE Anuario Estadistico de Cuba, 2015 Table 15.3), Accessed February 23, 2016

 Most Canadian tourists head to the beach with a package tour – going to Havana or another city on a day’s excursion.  For this reason, they have been sometimes derided as “el cheapo” tourists who spend as little as they can in the Cuban economy.  There may be some truth in this, but most other tourists also are in similar package tours. If prices were to rise significantly with the influx of U.S. tourists, one could expect that some Canadian tourists would switch to other Caribbean destinations. This could indeed happen to some extent, especially if the winter-time “sun, sea and sand” tourism from the United States increases greatly.

Chart 3 Tourist Arrivals, Major Caribbean Countries, 1995 – 2013


Table 1. Caribbean Tourist Arrivals and Earnings, 2010 and 2014 yyyy1

Source: United Nations World Tourism Organization, Annual Report 2014, p.6.  http://www.e-unwto.org/doi/pdf/10.18111/9789284416899, Accessed February 29, 2016

Will Other Caribbean Destinations Lose Out to Cuba?

There has been some fear that other Caribbean tourist destinations would lose when U.S. citizens start flocking to Cuba.  This indeed is a legitimate fear.

A glimpse at the past 25 years suggests that the impacts on other Caribbean destinations in general may be mixed. A glance at Chart 3 indicates that some other major destinations, including the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and the other “Caribbean Small States” in general have been able to withstand the growing competition from Cuba and have continued to expand significantly in terms of tourist arrivals over the 1995-2013 period. The expansion of tourism in the Dominican Republic is especially notewortheyPuerto Rico is the major exception along with The Bahamas.  Both have lost its shares of tourist arrivals and of revenues in the brief 2010-2014 period as indicated in Table 1.  Surprisingly, Cuba increased its share of tourists in the region, but its share of tourist revenues actually declined.

There is one reason for optimism with respect to the other Caribbean destinations.  Much of the prospective U.S. tourism to Cuba will not be of the “sun, sea and sand” variety, but will be of the other varieties especially “curiosity tourism.”  But what most of the other Caribbean Islands offer is a beach “escape-from-the-winter” holiday. They may therefore be less vulnerable to a tourism “shifting to Cuba” effect.

A small compensation will be that if Canadians are squeezed out of tourism in Cuba with the onslaught of U.S. beach resort tourists, they will likely go to other Caribbean destinations. However, there is also great affection on the part of many Canadians for Cuba as a tourism destination, and the return again and again and again!

Furthermore, international tourism generally has been growing steadily in the post-World War II period and there is little likelihood that this will cease unless the world enters a deep and prolonged recession.  Tourism in the Caribbean generally has been increasing steadily as well.  The overall expansion of tourism in the region should help compensate for any diversion of U.S. tourists from the other Caribbean islands to Cuba.

Will the Maya Riviera be hit with a diversion of U.S. tourists to Cuba?  This may well happen to some degree.  However, the Mexican Yucatan region is a highly attractive tourist waterfront destination with other major attractions. A beach holiday can be combined with archaeological tourism with a visit to the ancient Maya cities of Uxmal and Chichen Itza (both World Heritage Sites), Tulum, to less well-known but quite incredible Calakmul (another World Heritage Site) and Kohunlich and innumerable smaller sites. As well as this is the Colonial legacy in many small towns as well as Merida and Campeche (still another World Heritage site.)   In the long term, the Yucatan should certainly be able to hold its own.

 The Zika Virus Risk to Cuba’s Population and Tourism

While it is not known whether or not the  Zika Virus, linked to birth defects elsewhere in Latin America, has arrived in Cuba, there can be no doubt that it will. If, as seems increasingly certain, the Zika virus is primarily transmitted by the female Aedes aegypti, then pregnant women in Cuba would be at grave risk. This would likely have a major impact on the tourist sector and the Cuban economy generally – as well as tourism elsewhere in the Caribbean and tropical parts of the world, as suggested by the accompanying map.

Cuba has had long and reasonably successful experience in containing the dengue virus that has affected many people and also the rarer Chikungunya virus, a disease that causes fever and severe joint pain.  Both are also spread by some branches of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.  This has been achieved with frequent fumigation of homes, public and buildings and clean-up of stagnant waters that are the breeding grounds of the mosquitos.

 Map 1. Probable Occurrence of Aedes Aegypti in the Caribbean Region zika 2

Source: Wikipedia, Zika Virus, accessed February 29, 2016

Note: Global Aedes aegypti predicted distribution. The map depicts the probability of occurrence (blue=none, red=highest occurrence).

 On February 23, a public program was announced to deal with the potential problem. This involves:

  • using the army to expedite fumigation spraying,
  • calling on the somewhat moribund neighborhood associations – the Comites por la Defensa de la Revolucion – to promote public education,
  • a general clean-up of the streets and stagnant waters and
  • improved garbage disposal arrangements.

Judging from recent reports from Cuba these programs have been implemented quickly and people are already adjusting their behavior to eliminate the mosquito vector of the disease and in their normal living arrangements (using mosquito nets at night for example.)

Cuba’s public health system is very strong and its actions already seem to be determined and serious.  Cuba will probably be able to deal with the mosquito and the disease very effectively. Obviously effective action is imperative to protect Cuba’s people and future generations.

What will be the effect on Cuba’s tourism and its tourism-dependent economy?  Already there are concerns on the part of young women and especially of course pregnant women regarding travel to Cuba. This will undoubtedly have an impact, very minor one hopes, on Cuba as well as on the rest of the countries in the region.  But it is probable that Cuba’s public health system will minimize and hopefully eliminate the problem. If so, tourism will not be affected that seriously.


In summary, if managed wisely, Cuba can look forward to greatly expanded and economically beneficial tourist boom with full normalization of relations with the United States. This may generate some collateral damage for Canadian tourists who may face a crowding out and pricing out effect, but this will likely be modest and would likely benefit other Caribbean countries. Within the Caribbean region, some countries may feel pressure from the diversion of U.S. beach resort tourists, but most of the bigger destinations have held their own in the last few decades and will continue to do so.

A question mark and potential risk for the tourist sector – and more importantly for the whole population and for future generations in Cuba and many tropical regions is the Zika virus. This will likely hit Cuba in time if it has not already. But resolute policy, education and action have begun to deal with Zika.  Cuba’s past successful programs for controlling the dengue virus should facilitate rapid and effective action against Zika.

With respect to tourism in summary, the positive economic impacts of the coming U.S. tourism tsunami should far outweigh any possible effects of the Zika virus, which will likely be successfully controlled.


Cuba’s Best Friend of the 1990s: The Canadian Winter

z Playa-Guardalavaca-vista


Cuba’s Best Friend of the 2016 Onward: The Curious American Tourist !

> on February 26, 2015 in Havana, Cuba.

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By Michael Weissenstein, Associated Press

HAVANA — Mar 2, 2016,

Original Article: First Zika Case

Cuba announced Wednesday that it had detected the first case of the Zika virus on the island, which had been one of the last nations in the Western Hemisphere free of the disease.

The Ministry of Health said in state media that a 28-year-old Venezuelan post-doctoral student in gastroenterology arrived in the country Feb. 21 and a day later came down a high fever and rash. The government says the woman was under medical quarantine in Artemisa province outside Havana with other newly arrived doctors when her symptoms were detected.

An initial test for Zika was negative but a second test on Feb. 28 was positive, health officials said. The woman remains hospitalized in good condition at Cuba’s main tropical disease hospital in Havana, officials said. The woman’s husband and brother-in-law had both come down with Zika in Venezuela in recent weeks. The medical professionals who had entered Cuba alongside the sick woman remain in quarantine with no sign of Zika, officials said.

The Health Ministry made no mention of any case of Zika transmitted inside Cuba.

President Raul Castro announced Feb. 22 that the country was militarizing its fight to kill disease-carrying mosquitos, assigning 9,000 soldiers to spray for the insects nationwide. Since then, soldiers, police and health workers have launched an intense door-to-door effort to fumigate for mosquitos.

Gaps had been increasingly obvious in the effort to spray homes and businesses for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which has infected thousands of Cubans with the dengue virus and dozens with chikungunya, a disease that causes fever and severe joint pain. Cubans frequently claimed allergies or asthma to put off fumigation crews composed of public health workers and teenagers completing obligatory military service.

Those days appear to be ending as troops deployed across the country with hand-held foggers are now armed with the threat of fines for anyone who resists fumigation and fog-spraying trucks and small airplanes are blanketing the capital and other cities with white clouds of pesticide.

In Cuba’s airports and cruise ship terminals, crews of white-clad doctors are monitoring incoming travelers for high temperatures or other signs of illness. Medical officials said the fight against Zika had taken on increasing urgency as Cuba’s hot, humid spring and summer draw near.

Cuba earns billions of dollars a year from programs that dispatch doctors to allied countries like Venezuela and Brazil and bring medical students to Cuba. Wednesday’s report appeared to imply that those medical professionals were now being quarantined on return.



The Guardian, Sarah Boseley, Tuesday 1 March 2016 19.26 GMT

Original Article: ZIKA Virus

Pregnant women or those hoping to become so should stay away from Brazil and other regions of Latin America affected by the Zika virus, according to revised government advice.

The weight of evidence that Zika is to blame for the surge in babies with brain damage in Brazil has now tipped the balance, Public Health England (PHE) feels.

The previous guidance advised pregnant women to consider staying at home, consult their doctor if they intended to travel and take precautions against mosquito bites. Now it advises them not to go.

“It is recommended that pregnant women should postpone non-essential travel to areas with active Zika transmission until after pregnancy,” says the advice.

The update may cause some women who had hoped to travel to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in the summer to abandon their plans – even though the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which has been blamed for transmission of the virus, does not breed or bite in the summer.

Prof Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at PHE, said: “As our knowledge of the Zika virus, and the evidence linking microcephaly to Zika infection, becomes clearer, a more precautionary approach is warranted. This advice will be kept under review and updated as more information becomes available.”

The decision to upgrade the advice follows the emergence of an increasing amount of evidence linking the Zika virus to microcephaly – the small heads in babies growing in the womb that can cause brain damage.



Yahoo: Cuba Throws Soldiers…. against Zika

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ February 24, 2016 10:23 AM

HAVANA (AP) — Olive-clad soldiers are going door-to-door across Cuba, filling houses with mosquito-killing fog in a nationwide mobilization to keep the Zika virus out of one of the last countries in the hemisphere without it.

President Raul Castro announced this week that he was throwing 9,000 military personnel and hundreds of police into what he called Cuba’s “inadequate” fight against the mosquito that carries the virus linked to birth defects and paralysis elsewhere in Latin America.

“Our people will know how to demonstrate their ability to organize and maintain the public health achievements of the revolution and prevent our families from suffering,” Castro declared. “We must be more disciplined and demanding than ever before.”

Castro’s call to action included an unusual admission of deficiencies in Cuba’s vaunted free neighborhood-level health-care system, which has suffered in recent years from lack of equipment, short-staffing and low morale among poorly paid state health workers. It was also a test of the communist government’s once-legendary ability to marshal the entire country behind efforts ranging from civil defense to bigger sugar harvests to disease prevention.

The government announced Tuesday that it was activating the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, a neighborhood watch organization that enforced government dictates for decades but has lost importance in recent years. The government said that committees across the country would distribute anti-Zika information to every Cuban and inspect at-risk sites for mosquitoes in coming days.

Gaps have been increasingly obvious in the effort to spray homes and businesses for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which has infected thousands of Cubans with the dengue virus and dozens with chikungunya, a disease that causes fever and severe joint pain. Cubans frequently claim allergies or asthma to put off fumigation crews composed of public health workers and teenagers completing obligatory military service. Unwilling to force homeowners to let them in, the crews often mark the residence as fumigated and move on to the next house or apartment.

Those days appear to be ending as troops deployed across the country with hand-held foggers are now armed with the threat of fines for anyone who resists fumigation.

“Cuba has a series of advantages: It’s an island, it has a homogenous population and a health infrastructure that generally reaches every street corner,” said Jaime Torres, director of tropical medicine at the Central University of Venezuela. “And its political system allows it to take measures, including imposing punishments, that are harder to impose in other places.”

Cuba Zika

Soldiers carrying a fumigating machine leave a home after spraying for mosquitos in Havana, Cuba,

In Cuba’s airports and cruise ship terminals, crews of white-clad doctors are monitoring incoming travelers for high temperatures or other signs of illness. Medical officials said the fight against Zika had taken on increasing urgency as Cuba’s hot, humid spring and summer draw near.

“The objective is to diminish the adult mosquito population ahead of the coming critical months,” said Reinaldo Garcia, head of anti-mosquito efforts for a neighborhood health clinic in Havana.

As soldiers fumigated Wednesday, medical students were knocking on doors alerting homeowners to watch for symptoms such as fever and conjunctivitis. State-run television and radio featured a constant stream of educational messages about Zika, which has been linked to the birth defect microcephaly.

“Although there is no sign of that disease, we want to eliminate the transmitter, eliminate the chain, so if it enters the country there is no way to transmit it,” Dr. Osvaldo Mendoza of the Public Health Ministry said as he supervised a crew of military fumigators.

Medical workers were ready to move into any area where a possible Zika case is detected, quarantining and testing anyone who lives within 500 meters, said public health official Dr. Lorenzo Somarriba.

“Everyone’s talking about it,” said Suset Valdes, a 19-year-old Havana resident who is six months pregnant. She said pregnant women in her maternity ward were protecting themselves with repellent-soaked mosquito nets.

Carlos Espinal, director of the global health program at Florida International University in Miami, said that while it was virtually certain that Zika would arrive in Cuba, he was hopeful the island’s health system would prevent the virus spreading as it has elsewhere in Latin America.  “It’s inevitable, but the Cuban disease-monitoring system is sure to greatly mitigate the negative impact in the community,” he said.

Valdes’ mother, Dolores Hernandez, 51, said she felt better with her daughter off the streets of their Old Havana neighborhood, where garbage had been piling up for weeks or months without any government reaction.  “It’s horrible how people threw trash in Old Havana,” she said. But now “they’re picking it up, running around, unclogging their drains. Now, they’re really getting going.”

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