Miller School Team Finds Sharp Rise in Zika Cases in Ecuador After 2016 Earthquake

A University of Miami Miller School of Medicine team has found a sharp rise in Zika virus cases in northeast Ecuador after a devastating earthquake on April 16, 2016.

“We saw many pregnant women with typical signs of Zika on multiple UM medical missions to the affected region,” said Leonardo Tamariz, M.D., MPH, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Population Health and Computational Medicine. “We collaborated with Ecuador’s Ministry of Health and researchers from local universities to study the outbreak and see what steps could be taken to prevent this type of public health problem in the future.”

Tamariz was the senior author of the study, “Impact of the 2016 Ecuador Earthquake on Zika Virus Cases,” published May 18 in the American Journal of Public Health. Miller School co-authors were Ana M. Palacio, M.D., MPH, associate professor of clinical medicine and director of Latin American programs in the Department of Public Health Sciences, and John C. Beier, Sc.D., professor of public health sciences, director of the Division of Environment and Public Health, and professor in the Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy.

Last year’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake claimed the lives of 663 people, displaced 28,775 residents, and caused major damage to seven hospitals in Manabí province. Drawing on Ecuador’s national public health surveillance system for reportable transmissible conditions and laboratory results, the Miller School team found there were 11.1 Zika cases per 100,000 people after the earthquake in the most affected province, compared with 0.06 and 1.79 cases in two provinces far from the quake’s epicenter.

“We included all confirmed Zika virus cases in areas affected by the earthquake and in control areas that are similar in elevation, average temperature, proximity to the coast, and population size,” Tamariz said. “We also included suspected Zika cases to evaluate the geographic relationship between these cases and those confirmed by a laboratory.”

After the earthquake, the Zika patients in the affected area took an average of 52 days to seek medical care after the onset of their symptoms – far longer than the three days it took before the quake, according to the researchers.

“Our study is important because the findings can be extrapolated to future natural disasters, including earthquakes or hurricanes,” Tamariz said. “Our work can also help governments prepare to address the challenge of Zika, which is now a pandemic in the tropical areas of the Western Hemisphere.”

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