ZIKA UPDATE: THE LATEST FACTS

This month, much of the world is watching the games of the 31st Olympiad from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from the comfort of their homes. The spectators there, and especially the athletes are watching something else: mosquitoes.

The Zika virus has been in the news for most of 2016. One of the most watched countries is Brazil, as the concentrations of the mosquitoes that carry the virus are among the highest there.

The risk to athletes and spectators alike appears to be minimal, but many in both groups are taking precautions. A handful of athletes cancelled their opportunity to compete, opting to eliminate the risk of contracting the disease through a mosquito bite to keep their reproductive health foremost. Most of the athletes are of childbearing age, and because the risk is present for both men and women, their future reproduction was more important to them than competing in what may be a once-in-a-lifetime competition.

Others opted to bring mosquito nets along; some males even froze their sperm before they left as insurance.
Before the games began, there were approximately 165,000 suspected and confirmed cases in Brazil. In January, there were 8,000 reported cases in Rio alone, but only 140 new cases reported in July. Mercifully, those numbers went down in time for the Olympics, and the anticipated dread and panic seem to be less than feared in the months before the games began.

Very few of us have to worry about direct exposure in Brazil. However, a mosquito bite is not the only way it can be contracted. A pregnant woman can pass it on to her fetus in utero and during delivery, and it is sexually transmitted as well. There have also been a few cases reported to be caused by a blood transfusion.

Many media accounts have given in-depth coverage regarding the risk to a pregnant woman and her fetus. If a woman is pregnant, or may possibly become pregnant, travel to affected areas is discouraged. Because it is sexually transmitted as well, extreme caution is advised considering her sexual partner. If they have traveled to an affected area, then this must be addressed.

The virus causes microcephaly, which means that the brain’s growth is affected, and causes the brain to develop to less than its normal size, and typically cognitive and sensory development are adversely affected as well. Many of the affected babies undergo intensive therapy to stimulate their senses and development, with no guarantee that it will make a functional difference.

In Brazil alone, approximately 1,700 babies have been born to affected mothers with this condition since the outbreak of the Zika virus.

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The name Zika comes from the Zika Forest in Uganda, where the virus was first isolated in 1947. This virus is related to yellow fever, dengue, Japanese encephalitis, as well as West Nile Virus. Prior the 2007, it was contained in a narrow geographical area in Africa and Asia. After that time, it was noted to spread across the Pacific Ocean to America, causing the outbreak that began in 2015.

The infection, known as Zika fever or Zika virus typically causes only mild symptoms. There is no specific treatment or vaccine. Rest and acetaminophen are typically advised as relief from symptoms. In extremely rare cases, Guillain-Barre syndrome may result, which attacks the nerves and causes first weakness, then temporary paralysis. Hospitalization is required, and most people recover.

The virus is spread primarily by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, but researchers have found the virus in common Culex mosquitoes as well. The mosquitoes must feed on blood in order to lay eggs. Their lifespan is only three weeks, and the typical mosquito doesn’t travel more than 500 feet in its entire life.

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There have been more than 1,650 cases of Zika infections confirmed in the Unites States, mostly from travel to South America and the Caribbean. Most recently, however, there have been new cases confirmed from mosquitoes in a very specific area of south Florida. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) urged pregnant women to avoid an entire area of Miami, known as the Wynwood neighborhood where the mosquitoes were known to inhabit. As of this time, 15 people in Miami have contracted the virus locally, with 14 of them in this mile-square neighborhood. Geneticists call this a “lazy” mosquito, since it travels so little within its short life. Mercifully, this is a good thing to contain the population of affected mosquitoes.

This is the first time the CDC has ever issued a travel warning within the continental United States due to an infectious disease.

Aerial spraying for mosquitoes in underway in Miami, but it appears to be making very little difference in the extensive mosquito population. In addition—for future prevention—there are trials proposed, but not yet cleared by the FDA, for genetically engineered mosquitoes whose offspring die before reproductive maturity, which would be a significant factor in reducing the population of infectious mosquitoes.

As with any outbreak of an infectious condition, panic is never a good option. Remaining informed from reliable health and media sources, and following general and specific recommendations in place from the CDC and other trusted sources is always the best line of defense.

The following recommendations are universally offered to prevent the spread of the Zika virus:

*Prevent mosquito bites:

  • Use a repellant with DEET.
  • Wear long pants and long sleeves in areas with mosquitoes.
  • Protect children or those who need assistance.
  • Use screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.
  • Don’t leave water standing outside that may attract mosquitoes.

*Plan for travel:

  • Check travel notices through the CDC before you travel.
  • Follow recommendedprecautions for both before and after your trip.

*Protect yourself during sex: Zika is passed through sexual contact via semen and vaginal fluids. It is thought to remain longest in semen, but studies are underway to determine exactly how long it remains in all fluids, and how long it can be passed.

  • Abstain from all sexual contact—this totally eliminates the risk of getting Zika from sex.
  • Use condoms or other barriers if not abstaining.

*Build a Zika prevention kit:

  • Keep mosquitoes out of your bedroom. If it is not well screened, use a bed netas mosquitoes will bite indoors as well as out.
  • Use standing water treatment tablets to kill larvae in standing water aroundyour home, being careful to follow directions on package.
  • Use EPA registered insect repellant
  • Spray your clothing and gear with permethrin to protect yourself from bites.
  • do not spray permethrin directly on skin.

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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) remain the most informed and authoritative source on Zika, its symptoms, prevention and treatment. Their website (www.CDC.gov) contains a wealth of information regarding Zika.