Debate Surrounding the Expected Severity of Zika Virus Threat in the U.S.

Key Takeaways:

  • Experts believe that the Zika virus is unlikely to establish significant transmission cycles in the U.S., given past trends with similar diseases like dengue and chikungunya.
  • Outbreaks might occur in Southern U.S. states due to the presence of mosquito species carrying such diseases. Florida, Louisiana, and Texas are considered most at risk.
  • The primary concern about the Zika virus is its potential to cause microcephaly, a brain-related birth defect, in babies if a woman gets infected during pregnancy.
  • Health strategies implemented include improving mosquito control, increasing Zika testing, and encouraging personal protection measures.
  • Preventative measures for potential infection include wearing long-sleeved clothing, using mosquito repellent, staying indoors as much as possible, and practicing safe sex in active Zika areas.

As summer approaches, health officials are warning about the risks of the Zika virus spread – but are they overstating the severity?

Renowned specialists in insects and infectious diseases argue that the mosquito-borne virus is unlikely to pose a substantial threat to pregnant women across the U.S.

Influence of Zika Virus in the U.S.

“The chance of the Zika virus establishing transmission cycles that become established in the U.S. is practically none,” says Chris Barker, a mosquito-borne virus researcher at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

According to Barker, the Zika pattern should be similar to other mosquito-borne tropical diseases like dengue fever and chikungunya. These diseases have been unable to secure a significant presence in the United States in spite of repeated introductions.

Barker insists, “Our efforts in the United States to prevent mosquito bites through the use of screens and air conditioning appear to be sufficient to limit the risk of dengue. We believe the same applies to the Zika virus.”

The Implication of Proven Theory

If Barker’s theory is correct, Zika outbreaks may occur in Southern U.S. states where mosquito species carrying such diseases are most active.

The Reason for Zika Fears

The fear around the Zika virus stems from it being the first mosquito-borne illness known to cause a brain-related birth defect, namely microcephaly, if a pregnant woman becomes infected.

Microcephaly causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and brains. Nearly 5,000 babies have been affected in Brazil, the epicenter of the Zika outbreak, according to the World Health Organization.

In light of the risks for pregnant women and their fetuses, Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), advocates for caution. He admits that “the bottom line is that nobody can accurately predict what will happen in the United States concerning local transmission of the Zika virus.”

Vulnerable Parts of the U.S.

Skinner also points out that certain areas in the United States might be more vulnerable than others, such as Florida, Texas, and areas along the Mexico border and the Gulf Coast.

Strategies to Limit Zika Spread

In order to curb the prospective spread of Zika, a three-pronged strategy has been employed by health officials. This involves improving mosquito control, expanding Zika testing, and urging the public to protect themselves against mosquitoes.

Still, it won’t be possible to test every woman who’s pregnant or might become pregnant for infection with the virus, which is why self-protection and mosquito control are pivotal components of this strategy.

States at Highest Risk

Gulf Coast states like Florida, Louisiana, and Texas are most at risk for local Zika outbreaks, warns Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior associate at the University of Pittsburgh’s UPMC Center for Health Security. The reason for this is the abundance of _Aedes aegypti_ and _Aedes albopictus_ mosquitoes, known carriers of diseases such as dengue and chikungunya.

Laura Harrington, chair of entomology at Cornell University, also believes that while the _Aedes_ mosquitoes can spread further north, they are unlikely to flourish enough to carry Zika to more northern states.

Preventing Misplaced Fear and Overreactions

As Barker, Adalja, and Harrington all agree, a potent public health response is necessary, but it needs to focus primarily on Southern states, especially Florida and Texas, as these are the states most at risk.

Despite these risks, Barker insists people should not change travel plans within the United States based on concerns over Zika.

Strategies for Protection against the Zika Virus

To protect themselves and their unborn children from mosquito bites, pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant should wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. They should use mosquito repellent when outside and stay indoors as much as possible. They should also use condoms or refrain from sex with a male partner if they are living in an active Zika area.

All people can reduce their local risk by eradicating mosquito habitats from their property. This includes getting rid of any source of standing water, and treating and circulating swimming pool water.

More Information on the Zika Virus

For more details on the Zika virus, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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