Here at DC Mosquito Squad, we’re keeping up with all the mosquito-borne diseases that are infiltrating our nation’s capital. This year, we are especially concerned about the rapidly spreading mosquito-borne virus, Zika. It is currently wreaking havoc in South and Central America, and just this week, a dozen cases of Zika have been confirmed in the United States in people who have recently traveled to Zika-affected areas. Now is the time to start thinking about how to protect your family against this dangerous virus.
What Is the Zika Virus?
According to the CDC, Zika is primarily transmitted to people by an infected Aedes species mosquito. About one in five people infected with the virus develop Zika. The symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain or a headache, and they last for about a week.
What’s the Current Situation?
In May of last year, a Zika outbreak occurred in Brazil, affecting more than 1 million people. It has since spread to 22 other countries in the Americas, the Caribbean, and Polynesia, according to the Pan American Health Organization and the CDC.
The list includes: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Samoa, Suriname, and Venezuela.
Why Is Zika Such a Major Concern?
Until last year, Zika was not seen as a serious threat. However, in the past few months, evidence has been discovered to indicate that Zika may cause birth defects in children and neurological problems in adults.
The Economist reported that doctors in Brazil saw a major increase in babies born with microcephaly: an abnormally small head, often with brain damage. More than 3,500 cases were reported in four months, as compared to less than 200 a year before 2015. This month, the CDC found the Zika virus in two Brazilian babies with microcephaly who had died in the womb or after birth.
Also, when Zika cases became more prominent in Brazil and El Salvador, both countries saw increases in severe neurological problems, including Guillain Barré syndrome, which can lead to paralysis.
What Is Being Done?
Researchers are not yet certain that Zika is exclusively to blame for these two trends, but the evidence is compelling enough to cause the CDC to issue travel advisories urging pregnant women to avoid travel to countries that are affected. According to the Washington Post, Brazil, El Salvador, Colombia, and Jamaica have all advised women to delay pregnancy until the virus has been contained.
Currently, there are no vaccines or medications available to prevent the spread of Zika. Researchers have begun to work on a vaccine, but unlike the Ebola vaccine, where much of the groundwork had already been laid, the Zika vaccine has to be started from scratch.
Is the United States at Risk for Zika Outbreaks?
The Washington Post reports that Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, and Hawaii have confirmed cases of the virus in residents who recently traveled to affected countries. Some experts believe it is only a matter of time before the virus spreads throughout the country, likely following a similar trajectory as dengue fever.
According to a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Yale University, the genus of mosquito that transmits Zika, Aedes, is present in regions of North America, including the southern United States, and as far north as New York and Chicago. Scientists believe that due to warmer-than-average temperatures, the virus could easily spread north.
What Can Be Done to Reduce the Risk of a Zika Infection?
Pregnant women should follow the CDC’s warnings and avoid travel to affected countries. Keep close tabs on updates from the organization here.
For anyone traveling to an affected area, take all necessary precautions to prevent bites – including wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and using strong insect repellent.
Contact DC Mosquito Squad today to find out how to keep mosquito populations in your area under control.
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