The Zika virus is an evolving story that is dominating the headlines. This is not a new virus, but its spread across South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, and apparent link to birth defects, are causes for concern.
A Brief History
Zika was discovered while researching yellow fever in Africa in 1947. A monkey, caged near the Zika Forest in Uganda, contracted a fever of unknown origin, later determined to be what we now call the Zika virus. The first human case occurred in Nigeria in the 1950s. It has remained rare and mostly innocuous throughout tropical Africa and southeast Asia, until 2007 when an epidemic erupted on Yap Island in Micronesia. Subsequent epidemics elsewhere increased concern, but nothing like current events.
There is evidence the virus may be linked to microcephaly, a condition in which a child is born with a small head and underdeveloped brain. The virus may also, rarely, trigger Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a type of autoimmune disease.
How Zika Spreads
Zika is transmitted by mosquitoes in the genus Aedes, and possibly by sexual intercourse. It is otherwise not contagious. Most individuals who contract the virus exhibit symptoms typical of the flu, and recover quickly.
Cases of the Zika virus in the U.S. from Florida, Illinois, Texas, and Hawaii represent people who returned from travel to countries known to harbor Zika. This prompted the Centers for Disease Control to issue a Level 2 Travel Alert for pregnant women on January 15, 2016.
Whether mosquito populations in the Gulf Coast states of the U.S. will become carriers of Zika is open to speculation, but considering the other illnesses vectored by mosquitoes, practice preventive measures such as wearing pants, long sleeves, and hats when outdoors. Repellents with DEET, such as Ben’s Insect Repellent, as the active ingredient can be applied per instructions (follow them to the letter). Empty reservoirs and containers that trap rainwater, as these are breeding grounds for mosquitoes.