Zika Virus: Updates and Need for Congressional Action

As we move from spring to summer we will be facing warmer temperatures, higher humidity and more rain.  This creates a perfect environment for standing water mosquito breeding grounds, and an increase in the mosquito population especially the Aedes aegypti which carries the Zika Virus, Dengue Fever and Chikengunya Viruses.  President Obama and the Center for Disease Control have asked the United States Congress to allocate 1.9 billion dollars to fight Zika virus but conservative Republican elected officials have failed to address the issue. As a short term stop gap measure the CDC has suspended its work on Ebola and other hemorrhagic diseases and begun using those funds for Zika Virus research.  They are in the process of developing a Zika Virus Vaccine for prevention in humans but are several years away from achieving this.  Zika virus is currently widespread in South America, Central America and the Caribbean Basin.  While the infection produces an extremely mild clinical pattern in most humans, it causes severe birth defects in pregnant women including microcephaly or small skull or cranial cavity for an enlarging growing brain. Infected fetuses result in spontaneous abortion, death of the child or lifelong neurologic deficits. At this point researchers are not sure exactly at what point in a pregnancy, exposure to the Zika virus causes birth defects.  In adults the disease is mild but the body’s antibody response against the virus can result in progressive ascending paralysis with a disease known as Guillan Barre. Many of these patients eventually have their diaphragm and respiratory muscles involved and require intubation and respirators to survive. If they survive the adult illness they are often left with painful neurologic issues post paralysis.  To date most Zika infections occurred in travelers returning from areas of the world overrun with Zika. There has been documented sexual transmission of the virus between an infected and uninfected partner.  The disease symptoms are so mild in some they do not even realize they are infected.

The fear is that with the warm wet weather our local mosquito population will become infected with the Zika virus by sampling the blood of infected individuals and start a local epidemic.  NASA has created a model which predicts an epidemic in South Florida, Houston and southern Texas and parts of Louisiana. Mosquito control is one means of fighting the vector of transmission. Most local spraying programs hope to reduce the mosquito population by 50% to be considered successful but this rate of success will not prevent transmission of these three viruses.  Officials in the Florida Keys have begun releasing sterile male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes into the population in the hopes of reducing the overall mosquito population.  In a recent article in the journal Cell Symposia, researchers presented data suggesting that infecting the male Aedes aegypti mosquito with parasitic bacteria known as Wolbachia may inhibit viral replication of the virus and transmission by mosquito bites.  They have already shown that infecting mosquitoes with this parasitic bacterium reduces the spread of Dengue fever and Chikengunya.  To move forward with a project like this requires Federal funding and Congress is delaying addressing the issue as part of the politics of NO in an election year.

To protect yourself this spring and summer please make sure there is no free standing water on your property which can be used as a breeding ground by mosquitoes. Make sure your screens are intact at your home.   Wear long sleeves and use insect repellant. Consumer Reports still recommends repellant with 8 – 30% DEET, 20% Picardin or 30% Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. They specifically suggest Sawyer Fishermans Formula Picardin or 2 Repel Lemon Eucalyptus or Deep Woods Off with 25% DEET.  Above all contact your Congresspersons and Senators and encourage them to fund the fight against Zika.

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