These days it seems like every few years there’s a new illness to worry about. Last year there was Ebola, before that H1N1, and now we are facing Zika. The illness is traveling to the United States from Latin America. It is been especially bad in Brazil. Given the Lone Star State’s location on the southern border of the U.S., there has been a lot of worry about what effects the virus may have here. Here’s what you need to know about Zika in Texas.
The effect of Zika on humans:
Unlike Ebola and Swine Flu, the symptoms of Zika are relatively mild. In fact, many adults who contract the virus will show no symptoms at all. Zika symptoms include joint pain, fever, red eyes and a rash, similar to the flu.
The people most affected by Zika are unborn children. If a child contracts Zika in the womb, it can cause microcephaly, a birth defect that causes an infant’s skull to be deformed and smaller than normal. Microcephaly also causes developmental delays and other potentially catastrophic effects on children.
There have been two Zika related deaths in the U.S. In June, an elderly man in Utah died after contracting a travel-related case. Just recently, a Zika-infected baby born in the Houston area died shortly after birth. The baby had Microcephaly caused by the virus. The infant contracted the illness from his or her mother who had been in Latin America during her pregnancy. As of Aug. 9, Texas has had 99 reported cases of the virus, all of which were related to travel to an infected region outside the country.
Communicability of Zika:
Zika is not communicable from human to human through casual contact. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes five possible ways a person can contract the virus: mother to child in utero, sexual transmission, infected blood transfusion, and transmission in a laboratory environment from accidental exposure to infected blood.
Mosquito bites are the most prevalent way the disease is being spread in Latin America. Until recently, no American Zika cases were contracted this way. However, that has now changed. According to CNN, the CDC issued a travel warning last week to pregnant women and their partners, advising them not to travel to Miami. As many as 11 home-grown Zika cases have now been reported in Miami. This means that mosquitos in the Florida tourist city have bitten infected people, and thus have been able to spread the virus from one person to another.
What this means for Texas:
Like Texas, Florida has a large population of people who travel back and forth between the U.S. and Latin America. Also, the mosquitos that carry and transmit Zika (Aedes Aegypti and Aedes Albopictus) are known to live in Texas. This means that eventually, Zika might be mosquito-borne here. Currently, however, it is not. So should you be frightened? No, probably not. If you or your partner are pregnant, it’s important to take precautions, but it’s not necessary to panic.
“Zika is far more contained than people realize,” Dr. Peter Hotez , Director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, told Fox News. “Areas of concern are cities like Brownsville, Texas, Corpus Christi, Houston, New Orleans, Tampa, Miami.”
It’s important to realize that the spread of the virus in Latin America has been exacerbated by living conditions that we do not have in the United States. For example, poor infrastructure creates a lot more standing, stagnate water that becomes mosquito breeding grounds. Also, the increased poverty rate means that not all houses have air conditioning, which means that more people resort to sleeping with open windows, which allow more mosquitos entry. Another thing to consider is that the weather affects mosquitoes. Cooler weather tends to kill mosquitoes and the approaching cooler months may help to curb the spread of the virus here at home.
How do you avoid it?
According to NBC Miami, the Miami-Dade authorities are currently instituting preventative measures by spraying an aerial larvicide over the affected region. This should kill many of the mosquitoes before they have a chance to mature.
There are no vaccines in existence to prevent the spread of the virus. So the CDC cautions pregnant women and their partners not to travel to Latin America (and now Miami). They also recommend avoiding mosquito bites and using prophylactic protection during intimate contact.