On January 26th the National Institutes of Health Director’s Blog posted an article that puts us in the radar in terms of the possibility of Zika virus spread. Our geographical position is a contributing factor in this case for two main reason. First our climate. So far this virus has been shown to spread primarily by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. This mosquito can thrive in warm and humid climates. In fact, the article specifically states that Florida is one of the areas of the country that might support the spread of Zika virus all year round. Second, Miami is a gateway to the Americas. It is well known that the amount of travelers that either make connections or travel to Miami International Airport from South America is significant. This increases our vulnerability to the spread of this virus infection.
Although originating in Africa and Asia, Zika virus infections were reported in Brazil as of May of last year. Since then, spread of infection in Brazil has reached epidemic proportions with an estimated 1.3M cases as of January 2016. Last year 9.9 Million people left Brazilian airports to other parts of the world and the US was the destination of 2.7 Million of those travelers. We don’t know how many of those travelers were infected. Nonetheless, there is reason for worldwide attention to this infection.
What are the health risks?
The actual disease caused by this virus infection is generally mild. In fact, many infected people are asymptomatic. The greatest concern is that researchers have reported a marked increase in Brazil of children born with microcephaly. The World Health Organization (WHO) researchers have a serious concern that the virus epidemic in Brazil might be linked to the marked increase in infants being born with microcephaly. Although this has not been proven so far, the concern is serious enough that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued recommendations for pregnant women in the US, see “Interim Guidelines for Pregnant Women During a Zika Outbreak- United States 2016”. In addition, other agencies have begun publishing lists of countries to which pregnant women should avoid travel to during their months of gestation.
Another concern is that this virus could also be linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome. This syndrome causes life-threatening paralysis. This is also not confirmed but suspected.
So what can we do to protect ourselves from this virus?
Currently there is no vaccine or antiviral treatment for the Zika virus. We know that this virus is transmitted by mosquitos. Therefore, personal protection against mosquitos can help. Use mosquito repellent as appropriate. Stay away from places that are known to be prone to having mosquitos during specific times. Eliminate any standing water deposits around your home to prevent breeding ground for mosquitos. Refer to the article published by CDC for further details “Avoid Mosquito Bites”. This is what we can do while we wait for results from the various health organizations that are working on developing better medical options against these infections. Keep following the news for more details.
-The Lancet http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2816%2900…
-NIH Director’s Blog http://directorsblog.nih.gov/2016/01/26/zika-virus-an-emerging-health-th…
-NIH Fogarty International Center http://www.fic.nih.gov/ResearchTopics/Pages/infectiousdiseases-zika-viru…
-CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6502e1.htm