As the summer months approach, mosquito season sparks concerns of a widespread Zika virus outbreak. The Zika virus is transmitted through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitos. For people with a healthy immune system, the virus triggers flu-like symptoms such as fever, joint pain, red eyes, headache, and rashes on the body. The immune system in healthy people typically fights off the viral infection in 2 to 7 days, and requires no treatment.
For pregnant women though, the risk for birth defects and developmental disabilities is high, and there is still no cure for the disease. The current cases of the Zika virus in the US have come from patients who have traveled to the most affected regions, like Brazil. A wetter and hotter than normal summer season in the American south, however, could increase rates of infection.
Mosquitos in the US
The CDC confirmed that the Zika virus in pregnant women is linked to microcephaly, a birth defect that affects brain development and causes head deformities that require a lifetime of care. While cases of Zika in the US have remained low, weather patterns could increase infection rates for people living the southern US states.
Microcephaly Head Size Diagram
Mosquitos are most active during warm and wet spring and summer months, as they come out of winter hibernation. A new weather model released by NOAA indicates that regions in the central Rockies and Texas are expected to have wetter and hotter than normal seasons, giving mosquitos fuel to reproduce. One of the ways to combat the reproduction of mosquitos is to remove stagnant water from outside containers and gutters, mowing lawns frequently, and using larvicides to kill mosquito larva in ponds and other garden water features.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends wearing protective long-sleeved clothing and insect repellents with ingredients like DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol.
Zika Virus News & Recommendations
There is still not a Zika virus vaccine available, and new reports indicate that the virus can be transmitted from human to human by unprotected sex. The first case of the virus transmitted through sexual intercourse was reported in Dallas, Texas by a gay couple that had unprotected sex after traveling to South America. The implications of this case raise concerns for health officials as they focus on developing a vaccine to halt new infections.
The CDC recommends that patients with the Zika virus treat symptoms by drinking water, and taking medications that contain acetaminophen or paracetamol to reduce fever and body aches. Patients who think they are infected with the Zika virus are advised to avoid taking non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to reduce the risk for bleeding. Other recommendations include wearing condoms to prevent the transmission of the virus sexually.
New research trials are currently underway to find a functional vaccine to prevent infection for those at greatest risk. As a response to the potential outbreak, government officials are now pushing for a transfer of funds from Ebola research to develop a functional Zika vaccine.