Rise in Zika not cause for concern


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Danielle Scharfenberg, Editorials Editor

Two more cases of Zika virus were confirmed in Missouri in mid-June, escalating the previous count for the year from five to seven, the national toll reaching 755. The ailment has been found to be mosquito-borne and related to international travel to regions such as the Caribbean, Central America or South America.

“All of the cases reported in Missouri have pertained to people who have traveled elsewhere [outside the country] and gotten bitten,” WHS nurse Molly Lynchard said. “Twenty-four travel-related cases were reported in Missouri last year. Anyone can get it.”

Zika virus—a member of the Flaviviridae family, related to other pathogenic vector-borne viruses such as dengue, West-Nile and Japanese encephalitis—is carried by infected Aedes mosquitos and is spread through their bite or the exchange of fluids during unprotected sex and blood transfusions. According to an article by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 80 percent of people infected with the virus do not realize it right away. Symptoms are often labeled as “flu-like” and easily fly under the radar.

“What people who are afflicted with the virus experience is very similar to mild symptoms of influenza,” Lynchard said. “Fever, aches, rash, red eyes. Its approach in healthy people is so subtle that diagnosis usually comes as an unwelcome surprise.”

While Zika virus is not transferable from person-to-person by touch, it can be spread sexually. The infection is also highly dangerous to pregnant women, as it can move between mother and baby in the umbilical cord. Exposure to the virus can result in serious birth defects including microcephaly—a developmental issue that typically results in a smaller than average head and various neurological problems.

“Many things about Zika are still unknown,” Lynchard said, “and that makes it a scary thing for expectant mothers. No one wants their child to have lifelong special needs.”

Unfortunately there is no treatment available for Zika virus at this time, but there has been progress towards fighting off the infection.

“They’re [scientists] working on a vaccine,” Lynchard said. “Right now they can test for symptoms [of Zika] and identify it. Texas has set up special clinics dedicated to treating pregnant women infected with Zika, and other states are following their lead.”

Zika virus can be labeled a national epidemic, but according to Lynchard, there is little cause for worry. There are many methods citizens can utilize to maintain safe environments for their families and friends.

“The most important thing is to keep down the population [of mosquitos],” Lynchard said. “Standing water should not be present around the home and wearing long sleeves and using mosquito repellent can help keep any [mosquitos] that might be infected at bay.”

Despite the crawling numbers, Lynchard assures that the fight against Zika virus is still going strong.

“There is nothing to panic about,” Lynchard said. “Zika virus isn’t like ebola. Pharmacists are hard at work looking for ways to treat Zika. The vaccine is on its way.”