“Spreading explosively” is the World Health Organization’s (WHO) characterization of the Zika virus. The statement may be political grandstanding, such statements cause panic. The Zika virus is spreading. Zika virus infection is highly toxic if acquired during pregnancy.
Zika virus has been around a long time. We know the Zika virus is spread by a certain mosquito known as, Aedes aegypti. So to get a Zika virus infection, a person will usually have had a mosquito bite. There are a few documented cases of heterosexual transmission of Zika virus. Paramount is the transmission of Zika virus to a fetus during pregnancy. This results in severe birth defects.
In January 2016, the first published case of such birth defects, occurring in the United States presented in Hawaii-a baby was born with microcephaly (small brain and small head). During the early pregnancy and before moving to Hawaii, USA, the Mother had been living in an area with active Zika virus. Presence of the Zika virus affecting the infant was confirmed by CDC.
The Zika virus is generally found where the implicated mosquitoes thrive-tropical and subtropical areas throughout the world. The most active areas of Zika virus infections are concentrated in Latin and South Americas and the Caribbean. New cases of Zika viral infection have been confirmed in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, Florida dating back to around June 15, 2016.
Many people infected by Zika virus don’t even get symptoms. Mild symptoms that do occur are fever, rash, headache and body aches and red eyes. The diagnosis can be confirmed by blood and urine tests.
As with most viruses, there is no cure for Zika infection. There is realistic hope for a Zika vaccine. Clinical trials are underway.
Unfortunately, Zika virus infection is a problem that cannot and will not be ignored. Currently, the best prevention from Zika virus is prevention of the mosquito bites. This applies especially to pregnant women, their partners, and couples thinking about getting pregnant.
Mosquito control can be achieved by barriers (clothing, screens and nets). Topical insect repellents-picaridin (Skin So Soft Bug Guard, Cutter Advanced) and DEET (OFF!) are helpful. Indoor insect fogger and outdoor sprays can also work to limit mosquitoes.
Travel restrictions are also recommended. The CDC has made a travel advisory to the Miami area. Particular caution should be taken during the day as this is when the mosquito is most active. Stagnant water sources where mosquitoes can lay their egg such as old tires, flower pots, bird bath and buckets should be removed.
Zika virus has extended its reach to the continental US. Zika virus infection during pregnancy causes severe birth defects. We must be proactive to prevent the severe consequences of this latest “tropical fever.”
Dr. Dennis I. Ayon, M.D.