One child’s death sparks new Zika outbreak in Canada

Written by Ula Ilnytzky, CNN

Eight people are now confirmed to have contracted the same variant of Zika virus as one who died earlier this year in Canada. The death of the child in Ontario came after several months with symptoms of the illness that linked him to the virus.

All new cases in Ontario are being identified and reported to the department of health, with tests on specimens from the first couple of patients confirmed as carrying either the Omicron or Culex species of Zika.

Dr. Keith Ayliffe, the executive director for the Surveillance, Investigation and Investigations Centre (SIIC) of Public Health Ontario (PHO), told CNN that Public Health Ontario could not confirm when the new cases occurred, and that it was difficult to distinguish between the Omicron and Culex species.

“We’ve only had a couple of reports over the past three to four weeks,” he said. “We’re only detecting them very late in the year now.”

Up to two cases every day

Ayliffe said that this year, so far, Ontario has confirmed 31 cases, including the one death, of Omicron and Culex species of Zika — which is usually only found in Latin America.

He warned that the ongoing situation is affecting provinces across the country. “We’re probably looking at upwards of two cases a day here in Canada,” he said.

The original case, a child, in Ontario came after several months of being infected by two initial patients who later died from complications of the virus, according to the announcement on the PHO website.

Although Ayliffe did not mention the identity of the deceased child, it is likely that it was the boy, who died on August 11, and who contracted the virus after traveling to Honduras and other regions of Latin America.

“After his initial illness began, we were concerned that he could acquire a worsening condition associated with the virus, but we weren’t sure what that would be,” Dr. Amina Al-Sareen, the Chief of Pediatrics for the Windsor-Essex Regional Health Unit, told the National Post, referring to the new cases.

According to the Health Department website, Dr. Al-Sareen will update that information to the public as new cases are identified. The PHO said last week that 19 people had been affected by the same variant of the virus, with 13 positive Zika tests and six negative tests.

‘Newly identified disease’

Public Health Ontario now identifies and considers cases of Zika, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, as an Omicron- or Culex-type of disease.

While he did not specify the degree of risk at the moment, the PHO issued the following statement Monday.

“The number of new cases of the Omicron and Culex species of Zika virus remains higher than historical trends for this time of year, for several reasons,” it read.

“One of the main reasons is that it’s becoming less clear exactly what type of illness is being caused, and that includes whether or not it may be related to active mosquito activity in the area and travel outside Ontario,” it continued.

“More information is needed before changes to public health messaging or additional testing of victims can be considered. For example, it has not been determined whether the person infected in these two new cases was traveling to Central America or parts of South America, or whether the illness was picked up locally.”

In contrast to the health department’s statement, Patrick Valentine, a senior physician at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, told the National Post that Omicron- or Culex-type of Zika does indeed mean that someone is experiencing current travel-related illness.

“It means they have a travel-associated Zika infection,” he said. “You have an activity here and another activity there, but the one thing is now confirmed that this does have an impact on a whole population of people with a known history of exposure and travel.”

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