By Melanie Perez
(TEANECK) – The CDC has established an interim response plan regarding cases of the Zika virus in the United States.
The plan involves educating and advising the public on how to protect themselves from mosquitos locally and while traveling, tracking and controlling the spread of the Zika virus, training detectives to find and report cases, teaching healthcare providers how to identify it, studying links between Zika other health problems, and providing laboratories with diagnostic tests.
The Zika virus has been linked to serious medical issues in humans, including microcephaly (a birth defect where newborn children have abnormally small heads and developmental issues) in newborn children and Guillain-Barré syndrome (an uncommon sickness within the nervous system) in adults, according to the CDC.
The virus affects about one in five humans in an area where Zika is located. The symptoms of the virus are very similar to symptoms of other mosquito-transmitted diseases like dengue – fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes) – but can be confirmed by a blood or urine test.
The virus is spread primarily through the bites of infected mosquitos, specifically Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus, but can also be transmitted sexually or via pregnant mothers, reports the CDC. Conversely, if a healthy mosquito bites an infected person, Zika can be passed to the mosquito.
The CDC has assured the public that it is only possible for one to have Zika if he or she has had sex with someone infected with Zika, has been bitten by an infected mosquito, or if it was passed to the fetus of an infected mother.
The best way for people to protect themselves from Zika is to protect themselves from mosquitos, reports the CDC. The easiest method of mosquito protection is the use of insect repellant that contains deet, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or picaridin – active ingredients in popular brands like Off!, Cutter, Repel, and Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus. The CDC recommends applying sunscreen before applying bug spray, as well as applying the repellant directly on clothing rather than on the skin beneath the clothing.
The Zika Virus was first discovered in 1947 in a forest 15 miles away from the Ugandan capital, Kampala. The Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) owns the “Zika Forest,” but their primary interest at the time that the virus was first discovered was yellow fever, according to the New York Times.
Reports from the time noted that researchers would simply stick out their arms and wait for a mosquito to bite. Scientists also used caged monkeys in wooden platforms among mango trees to encourage mosquito breeding.
Following the sudden illness of one of the monkeys, scientists isolated “a filterable transmissible agent,” the report said, claiming that they knew of the existence of a virus if after the blood serum of sick animals was filtered and screened, something was left behind.
Since then, the Zika virus has touched over 50 countries including Uganda, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Brazil, Columbia, Mexico, Guatemala, Haiti, France, the Dominican Republic, Chile, and the United States, to name a few.
The transmittance of the Zika virus varies largely by travel patterns, with increasing concerns for pregnant women traveling to countries with known Zika cases. There is disagreement within the medical community on the ethicality of asking women to delay pregnancy as Columbia did, identifying that for most women, conception is more complex than merely deciding to conceive or not.
The director of the Zika response efforts of the Pan American Health Organization, Dr. Marcos Espinal, said in an interview with the New York Times that he thought it was sound advice that women should delay conception until there are fewer Zika-related concerns.
Conversely, CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said at a “Zika Summit” in Atlanta, “We do not have a recommendation to not become pregnant.”
Instead, the CDC said that they recommend access to contraception and education. They are also directing research efforts to trying to detect infected mosquito exposure, reporting that the lifetime flight range is approximately one-mile in diameter, which could also act as the starting point of a priority geographic intervention area and lead to possible treatments or Zika preventatives.
For more information, visit the websites for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and The World Health Organization.