Be Well, Marsha 2/9/16

Another one bites

By Marsha Bonhart

Okay everybody, there’s a new bug in town and the World Health Organization (WHO) is getting us ready for its apparent inevitable U. S. invasion. The mosquito-borne Zika virus has already spread to 20 countries worldwide—its most prominent victims are women of child bearing age.

The WHO considers the mosquito-borne organism has already exploded to three to four million infections over the last year. One reason of extreme concern by the global health agency is the level of power of its uncertain expansion. This time, unlike the wait period for the deadly Ebola virus, the WHO is taking action quickly and is not waiting on more scientific research. That message has been well received by the United States and health officials here say more needs to be done to prepare for the Zika landing on U. S. shores.

The virus, first discovered in the 1940s, is carried by the Aedes mosquito and lives in every country in the Western hemisphere except Canada and Chile with its connection to pregnant women of grave importance. For instance, according to USA Today, Brazil is experiencing a type of birth defect that results in infants being born with deficient brain growth. Even El Salvador is urging women to wait two years before planning their pregnancies. That’s expected to be enough time for global health safety to be effective against the Zika. Since October of last year, Brazil’s Health Ministry has recorded more than 4,000 suspected cases with 270 confirmed. More than 3,400 are still being investigated. The South American country has reported overall 400,000 to 1.4 million Zika infections.

Lawrence Gostin, director of national and global health law at Georgetown University says international air travel will further fuel the virus’ cycle. Here is how its path could grow, according to Gostin’s USA Today interview. Zika isn’t spread by person-to-person contact. A virus carrying the Aedes species can be ferried on a plane and then end up in the United States. A domestic American mosquito could carry the disease if it bites someone who has been infected with the Aedes variety.

Weather is another factor of its infiltration. Climate change that brings on warming global temperatures could also set mosquitoes in motion to new regions. Gostin says, “Zika will certainly come to the United States and I think it will come fairly rapidly.” Preparation includes making sure public health officials look for the virus in the mosquitoes and checking anyone who is travelling from infected areas. “The last thing we want is a repeat of Ebola, where we saw preventable death,” says Gostin.

There is some reassurance from world-renowned infectious disease scientist Anthony Fauci. He estimates the U. S. will be able to contain a Zika outbreak that is expected to be a small attack.  As a precaution, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta warned pregnant women to avoid Zika infested areas, which include the popular tourist attractions, Dominican Republic and the U. S. Virgin Islands. The WHO, however, has not yet restricted travel. The USA Today article also confirms the Zika has recently been found in about a dozen Americans who had visited Latin America.

The situation has reached the ears of President Obama with extreme urgency. He met with the country’s top health and security advisers earlier last month to discuss how Zika will affect the U.S. health diagnosis and economy. He is urging experts to quickly push forward with efforts to diagnose and inoculate against the bug and to make sure Americans are well informed to keep themselves protected.

Health experts are putting responsibility on city and county health departments. Mosquito control will be influenced by removing standing water and spraying chemicals that get rid of the insects.  Also, the Aedes species is attracted to roadside trash which is more likely to be found in underdeveloped countries, but in the U.S., areas of extreme poverty without proper garbage removal or lack of window screens in their homes could be victimized as well. The Gulf Coast is thought to be particularly vulnerable.

Such a tiny insect has wreaked human havoc for centuries. It barely measures in length, but its scourging path is so long, it has killed scores of millions of people, carrying nasty viruses throughout humanity. American scientists realize the only way to really beat the pest is to modify it by limiting its ability to reproduce itself or spread disease.  A Time magazine article reads a particular method that has worked worldwide and is now being proposed in Florida, is population suppression. Male mosquitoes, modified for sterility, are introduced and birthrates decline when they are mated with females.

The article further states scientists argue there is not one solid approach to corralling the disease carrying insects. Most do agree, however that combining different approaches is the direction that is needed because there is no one size fits all approach.

Symptoms can include fever, reddened eyes and joint pain, none of which is fatal. Right now, there is not a test that has been developed for Zika diagnosis and only an advanced laboratory with sophisticated molecular testing can actually determine if it is actually the infection.

Since this article was written, the World Health Organization declared the Zika infection an international public health emergency.

Be well,

Marsha

Marsha Bonhart is a freelance writer and public relations/marketing consultant in the Dayton area. She can be reached at MarshaBonhart@DaytonCityPaper.com.    

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