As Congress prepares to take off for its summer recess, the nation waits for it fund public health agencies working to halt the spread of the Zika virus. So far, individual Congressmen prefer to use a Zika funding bill to make political points.
A coordinated public health approach badly needed to fight the Zika virus. The states are doing what they can. If Federal agencies can’t get additional funds (and only Congress can do this), the Zika virus may become an epidemic like it has in Brazil.
1200 Zika Infections and Counting
By mid−July, more than 1200 people in the US and Hawaii were found to be infected with the Zika virus.
The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes and intimate contact.
Obviously this doesn’t count people who didn’t go to a doctor and unaware of their infection. And guess what? The virus can be spread from person to person; mosquitoes are not required to spread Zika. It can be transmitted through sexual contact. It doesn’t care if the contact is with a wedded spouse or someone else.
You may be surprised to read that New York has the most Zika cases. Many patients acquired the infection elsewhere, primarily Puerto Rico and Central and South America, in addition to the US South.
As of press time, Florida is approaching 300 known cases of Zika virus. Most of them are in South Florida, which also happens to be a tourist mecca for people around the US and indeed, around the world.
What Zika Has Done So Far
As many readers know, fetuses are particularly susceptible to Zika’s ravages.
About 600 pregnant women in the US have been identified with the Zika virus. Seven infants have been born with birth defects associated with Zika according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They include infants with microcephaly, which leaves them with abnormally small heads.
The Zika virus can cause a range of other birth defects that include:
- Missing brain parts
- Abnormal brain structures
- Hydrocephalus, in which the brain fills with water and can enlarge it, leading to brain damage
- Problems with swallowing
- Vision problems including cataracts
Some patients infected with Zika are later found to have Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can result in paralysis. This particular risk increases with age.
Luckily, most people who are infected with Zika will recover without noticeable results. But for those who don’t−−particularly pregnant women−-it can be devastating.
What the US Government Needs to Do to Fight the Zika Virus
What can the government do? Plenty:
- Coordinate research into testing for and treating Zika
- Developing a vaccine to prevent it
- Expand mosquito control programs over land it owns, such as national parks
- Improve outreach and education to women, particularly low−income pregnant women and women with children
- More public education on how the virus can be sexually transmitted
Funds should be provided independent of other squabbles going on in Congress. This is too important to let go.
How You Can Prevent Zika Infection
On a personal level, you can protect yourself and your children by using insect repellent.
Most of these include DEET, which CDC says is generally safe. But it shouldn’t be used on infants, and adults are cautioned to make sure that it doesn’t touch children’s mouth and eyes. (This is a bit difficult with older babies and some toddlers who constant rub their eyes, suck on fingers, etc.) CDC recommends using mosquito netting for infants, which we heartily endorse.
In addition, some people, including children, are just sensitive to chemicals. DEET is powerful. That’s good for killing mosquitoes. For those who can’t use it, there are a few other options like our BYE…BZZZ® patches that are applied over clothing.
Here are a few other steps individuals can take:
- Repair damaged screens on windows and doors
- Don’t leave unscreened entryways, including windows, open
- Spill out water accumulated outside your home, particularly after rain
- Limit your time outdoors
- Refrain from intimate contact with people who have traveled to areas where Zika is epidemic or use condoms