Desmond Boylan for Nature
As soon as the rain stops, mosquitoes flood the guard house of an upscale tourist resort near Cuba’s Bay of Pigs. Without hesitation, one of the guards reaches under his desk to pull out a device that looks like a very large hair dryer. “Mosquito gun,” he says. He walks around, spraying a thick, white cloud of fumigant that engulfs the booth. Slowly, the mosquitoes disappear.
It’s not uncommon to see clouds of pesticide wafting through Cuba’s houses and neighbourhoods. It is largely because of such intensive measures by ordinary citizens that the country has been among the last in the Caribbean to succumb to local transmission of Zika. As of 11 August, Cuba has recorded three people who were infected by local mosquitoes rather than contracting the illness abroad, compared with 8,766 confirmed cases in nearby Puerto Rico (see ‘Zika in the Caribbean’).
Although scientists and public-health officials are disappointed that Zika has finally arrived in Cuba, they are not surprised. “It’s not easy to avoid an introduction, because a lot of people are coming to Cuba from a lot of places,” says Maria Guzmán, head of virology at the Pedro Kourí Tropical Medicine Institute in Havana. The country has recorded about 30 confirmed imported cases.
Zika is especially insidious because most people who have it show either no symptoms or only common ones such as fevers, which could be attributed to other illnesses. Yet, with the exception of one locally acquired case in March, Cuba mostly managed to keep Zika out until this month.
That success was the result of its excellent health-care system and an extensive surveillance programme for vector-borne diseases that the …