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September 18, 2016: The American Zika Outbreak

The virus’s prevalence in Puerto Rico threatens disaster if Congress cannot pursue long-term action

“America is already experiencing a Zika outbreak. The disease has already infected almost 20,000 American citizens and more than 1,500 pregnant women — with some estimates reaching as high as over 10,000 infected pregnant women. There have been dozens of hospitalizations and dozens of cases of the immune disorder Guillain-Barré, including at least one fatal case. Thirteen Zika-infected mothers have either aborted or miscarried fetuses, many of which exhibited the brain damage often associated with the disease. This year’s cases are just the beginning, and it looks like the virus could become endemic on American soil in the near future.

“As Congress dithers over funding for Zika prevention on the mainland, the island commonwealth of Puerto Rico is at a stage well beyond the reach of a preemptive strike. As the virus still struggles to establish a beachhead among Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in southern Florida, it has found a home in the Caribbean heat and moisture of Puerto Rico. And that’s awful for an island still deep in the throes of an economic and humanitarian disaster, and for one that’s always struggled with an underfunded and undermanned health infrastructure. Though Puerto Rico’s unique tropical climate is an outlier compared with that of much of the continental United States, the underlying issues with its infrastructure provide examples of just how Zika could spread elsewhere in the country, too.

“It’s been less than a year since the first reported case of Zika in Puerto Rico, but doctors in the territory are “already at their breaking points”

Zika infections themselves are not terribly taxing to health-care systems—symptoms usually resemble those of a cold or flu, if patients exhibit them at all—but the potential complications can stagger even well-funded health systems. Treatment for microcephalic infants and adults that develop neurological complications can cost millions per patient. Evidence from Brazil presented in an upcoming Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study indicates that the true burden of neurological disorders from Zika is underreported, and that in addition to a well-reported link to Guillain-Barré, the disease is associated with a rise in expensive hospitalizations from other neurological conditions, including encephalitis, myelitis, and encephalomyelitis. Additional services for child and maternal health—including screening and access to abortions—and contraceptive services simply add to the price tag. And with so little information available about Zika’s long-term effects, it’s impossible to know if hidden symptoms and costs don’t lurk down the road."

Source: The Atlantic

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