The Brazilian government is actively warning its female population to avoid pregnancy for the next few years, and the World Health Organization (WHO) recently labeled it a “global public health emergency:” Zika virus’ effects on humans have quickly escalated to the forefront of international health concerns in a manner that strikingly resembles Ebola’s frightening push to our consciousness. With over 20 Latin American countries experiencing suspected cases, the WHO expresses apprehension over the virus’ eventual spread due to its harmful effects on fetuses. As the disease’s epicenter is expected to receive an influx of worldwide travelers with the Olympic Games quickly approaching, worry only builds concerning the disease’s risk to surrounding environments. Today, we examine its potential threat and useful information for those inhabiting mosquito-prone areas.
First discovered among Ugandan primates in the late 1940s, the virus spread through most of Africa and Southeast Asia via the Aedes mosquito, the same species linked to Dengue and Yellow Fever. Without displaying any symptoms in infected humans, it was never considered much of a health risk.
Upon reaching Brazil, an interesting phenomenon began to occur: a rise in microcephaly, a life-altering congenital skull deformation, alongside reported cases of Zika. The Brazilian Ministry of Health found an increase that was nearly 20 times the cases reported over the previous five years. While unconfirmed as a direct link by the WHO and other health leaders, Zika traces have been found within the amniotic fluid of new mothers with infants displaying symptoms of microcephaly.
This is of particular concern, as the virus hadn’t displayed any demonstrable effects on humans during its entire lifespan. Now, health professionals seem mystified as to its effects and ability to transform.
Here is what we do know.
Should I Be Worried?
Among those infected with the virus, only 20% actually show noticeable symptoms. Furthermore, these are typically non-life-threatening – headache, lethargy, mild fever – and discontinue after a week’s time. Generally speaking, a large majority of people shouldn’t worry about this outbreak.
Pregnant women, including those looking to become pregnant, are the most notable targets when considering Zika’s dangers. Microcephaly shrinks an infant’s skull to almost half of the projected size, causing incomplete brain development and death in its most severe form. Once infected, the mother transfers the virus through the bloodstream and passed along to the child by crossing the placenta.
Zika is primarily concentrated in South America, with only a few cases reported in travelers returning to the U.S. with the virus. There hasn’t been a recorded instance of the virus transmitted to a United States resident through a mosquito bite.
The problem remains with the upcoming Olympic Games set to take place this summer. Brazilian government officials claim the events and those visiting will remain unaffected, due to the climate’s seasonal effects on mosquitos. Some reports indicate that the virus took hold during the 2014 World Cup during the nation’s influx of travelers. As nearly 200,000 Americans are projected to visit the country, it’s entirely possible the virus returns with its passengers.
If this were to happen, Southwestern states could be the first afflicted areas because of the favorable weather conditions and existing Aedes mosquito population.
Prevention & Cure
Currently, a vaccine doesn’t exist for Zika. Though health officials across the globe are actively searching for that preventative measure, some disease experts state that it could be years or decades before an operative vaccine becomes widely available. Very little is known about the virus itself and its effects, so researchers are still grappling with the problem on how to effectively administer treatment in the present, much less the future.
Holder’s Pest Solutions recommends taking the following steps to limit your exposure to mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika:
• Eliminate areas of standing water around the home, such as flowerpots, birdbaths, baby pools, grill covers and other objects where water collects. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water where the larvae develop and need only about ½ inch of water to breed.
• Screen all windows and doors. Repair even the smallest tear or hole to ensure mosquitos cannot enter.
• Minimize outside activity between dusk and dawn, when the majority of mosquitoes are most active.
• It is best to use an insect repellant containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon-eucalyptus when outdoors.
• Wear long pants and sleeves.