“Zika (virus) seems (…) scarier than we initially thought,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during a White House Press Briefing.
Her words hung in the air, emphasizing the need for immediate action and understanding of the virus. Fortunately, researchers are starting to understand the true threat of Zika. It’s been linked to other neurological disorders, and the transmission and infection rates are expanding. To improve community health, providers and caregivers need to understand the latest information on Zika.
Zika Linked to Gillian-Barre Syndrome
While the link between Zika and microcephaly continues to dominate mainstream media, Zika’s link to other disorders seems to have been overlooked. Zika appears to correlate with increased cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). Zikahas also been previously linked to GBS in other countries where Zika has been active throughout history.
GBS can result in permanent problems with musculoskeletal development in utero which may include paralysis. It may also cause irreversible musculoskeletal issues in adults, explains theMayo Clinic.
The research behind the link between Zika and GBS is minimal. It involved a small group of patients in Brazil. However, Dr. Toni Fauci of the National Institutes of Health refused to ignore the possibility of a definitive link between GBS and Zika during the White House Press Briefing. Until further evidence has been collected, Dr. Fauci advised all concerned individuals to continue mosquito-repellant measures.
At-Risk Populations: Transmission and Infection
At-risk populations for Zika transmission include those with active Aedes mosquito populations. According to the CDC, the Aedes mosquito is primarily responsible for the transmission of Zika. This type of mosquito has also been involved in the spread of dengue fever and chikungunya.
Zika can be spread through several ways, which include the following:
- Zika transmission from mothers to children during pregnancy and after birth. However, researchers have not found evidence of Zika transmission through breastmilk.
- Zika spreads as a blood-borne pathogen through mosquito bites, similar to the increased risk of hepatitis or HIV through sharing of needles in cases of IV drug users or during blood transfusions.
- Transmission of Zika has also occurred during sexual contact. As a result, Dr. Schuchat advised of greater use of condoms to prevent sexual transmission. She also recommended all pregnant women who travel to Zika-affectedcountries or regions to be tested for the virus.
If women have been exposed to Zika they are advised to avoid actively pursuing conception for at least eight weeks. However, men who may have been exposed should also be screened and avoid trying to conceive with their partners for a comparable time.
Part of the problem with Zika is asymptomatic cases which may result in an increase in the transmission of the virus due to any of the aforementioned modes of transport.
Zika to Spread Farther North Than Expected
The greatest risk from Zika seems to remain in Latin America but recent testing for the Aedesmosquito is starting to cause some concern. The estimated range of the Aedes mosquito population extends much farther north than anticipated.
Original reports on Zika, asserts the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, placed the Zika threat as bordering the southernmost states of the U.S. It’s greatest impact on the U.S. appeared to revolve around Puerto Rico and travelers to Haiti. Yet, recent developments and research into the virus are disproving this assumption. According to the CDC, a recent analysis of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes reveals their presence in areas as far north as Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Missouri.
Zika Found in Second Mosquito Species:
Another recent catalyst to the threat of Zika involves how it may be transmitted by the Aedesalbopictus mosquito. In reality, this was already known, but most news outlets failed to recognize the Aedes albopictus as a vector for the virus.
The focus had been placed on the Aedes aegypti mosquito as the prime vector. However, Zikatransmission among Aedes albopictus mosquitoes shifts the CDC’s map farther north. It’s important to recognize the CDC maps only show areas of states with known Aedes mosquito populations. The maps do not indicate current or expected Zika infection or transmission rates or likelihood. Yet, this does not provide an excuse for not understanding how Zika could become more dangerous.
Final Considerations on Zika:
Zika is not life-threatening. However, researchers are barely scratching the surface of how problematic the virus could become. In the White House Press Briefing, Dr. Schuchat explained how additional recommendations may be made or changed in the coming months as information about the virus grows. Consequently, it’s safe to assume extra precautions for preventing mosquito exposure need to be undertaken.
Precautionary, preventative measures against Zika, reports the World Health Organization include the use of a DEET-containing mosquito repellants, covering exposed areas of the body, and using physical barriers, such as mesh screens, to prevent mosquitoes from entering buildings and homes. Since some may be incapable of performing these measures due to physical or mental health problems caregivers may need to apply repellants, ensure appropriate attire and seal open entrances.
Failure to understand Zika will only lead to greater problems. Community health and mental health initiatives and caregivers can help reduce the Zika risk by spreading awareness about the virus.