As temperatures rise, so does the threat of Zika

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Summer heat is already beginning to bear down on the southernmost tip of the Texas border known as the Rio Grande Valley and along with it comes mosquito season.  One particular type of mosquito known as the Aedes species will be watched and tracked very closely as it is the type that spreads the virus Zika.  Discovered in 1947 and named after the Zika Forest in Uganda, this virus is an infectious disease spread mainly by this mosquito but also can be transmitted through sex and from a pregnant woman to her fetus.

So far, spring in the Rio Grande Valley is not starting out so good as 18 women in this area have tested positive for being infected with the virus that is linked to birth defects.  Home to 1.3 million people, the Rio Grande Valley is a poverty driven area and a potential hotspot of a Zika outbreak.  Many families living here have inadequate housing without air-conditioning or window screens and many are already infested with mosquitos.  

Zika epidemic could be costly

The threat of Zika appears not to be going away anytime soon.  The virus is silently spreading and with mosquito season almost here in the U.S., there is a significant potential of it spreading more quickly. 

Researchers in a new study published in Plos Neglected Tropical Diseases, used a new computational model calculating that Zika, depending on the rate of the potential risk of infecting people in at-risk states, could result in total costs ranging from $185 million to over $1.2 billion.  At-risk states are considered to be Texas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.

The computer models from the study suggest that even a mild Zika outbreak with an infection rate of only 0.01 percent, could lead to more than 7,000 infections and $183 million in medical costs and lost productivity.  A 1 percent infection rate could reach $1.2 billion, while a 10 percent infection rate could cost more than $10.3 billion.

How would a person know if they have the virus?

One of the problems of the virus is that some people will have no symptoms while others may have only mild symptoms.  The most common symptoms of Zika virus include:

· Fever

· Rash

· Headache

· Joint pain

· Red eyes

· Muscle pain

The symptoms can last from a few days to a week but the majority of people infected are not sick enough to go to the hospital and very rarely does anyone die from Zika.  Anyone who has been infected with the virus is likely to be protected from any future infections.

What is the main risk of Zika virus?

The primary concern of the spread of Zika is the threat to pregnant women and their babies.  A woman who is infected with the virus during her pregnancy has a higher risk of giving birth to a baby with a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly along with other severe brain defects.  Pregnant women infected with Zika are also at risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and other birth defects. 

Another condition putting Zika-infected people at risk is an increase in developing Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves, leading to muscle weakness and even paralysis.

How is Zika diagnosed?

If a person has no symptoms and are not a woman who is pregnant, they may never know they had the virus.  Those with the symptoms can have them confirmed for Zika through a blood or urine test. A diagnosis is also based on a person’s recent travel history.

How is a Zika infection treated?

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent the spread of Zika and there is no specific medication for treating a person who has been infected.  The main thing to treat of a Zika infection is the symptoms a person may have.  This would include:

· Plenty of rest

· Drink fluids to prevent dehydration

· Take medicine such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain

· Do not take aspirin of other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)

· Discuss with a physician if taking any other medications for other medical conditions

 

Prevention is the solution to Zika

Protecting oneself from the spread of Zika by mosquitos is the best way to prevent it.  Here is how to do this:

·  Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants

·  Treat your clothing and gear with permethrin or buy pre-treated items

·  Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellants with either DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone.

· These repellants are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women to use when used as directed

· Do not use insect repellants on babies younger than 2 months old

· Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old

· Stay in places with air-conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside

· Prevent mosquitos inside and outside of your home

· Use mosquito netting to cover babies younger than 2 months old when in carriers, strollers, or cribs

· If a home does not have air-conditioning or screened rooms, sleep under a mosquito bed net

· Prevent sexual transmission of Zika by using condoms or not having sex

In conclusion

If we all do our part to prevent the spread of Zika, this can help dramatically to reduce the number of those who could be infected with this virus.  Educating the public of the threat the Zika virus poses is a crucial step in stopping the spread in its tracks. 

To learn more about Zika virus and how to protect yourself, visit https://www.cdc.gov/zika/