By Sophia Shewfelt ’16
Heard of the Zika virus yet? If not, you soon will.
Widespread outbreaks of the mosquito-borne virus have been reported within South America and Central America, but now cases have recently been confirmed in Texas, Alabama and Florida.
Why is the Center for Disease Control (CDC) so concerned? Last year’s outbreak in Brazil is suspected of causing numerous cases of birth defects as well as the crippling disease, Guillain-Barre syndrome. As a result, both Brazil and El Salvador have advised women to delay getting pregnant for two years.
The U.S. has also cautioned pregnant women, as well as women planning to become pregnant, to avoid traveling to infected countries. And only last week, the United States Olympic Committee advised that U.S. athletes concerned for their health should not attend next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s news doctor, women who are not pregnant do not need to fear the virus for it will have little to no effect. In fact someone who is not pregnant and contracts the virus may not even realize she has it. That person would then gain immunity.
The Zika virus was reportedly first discovered in Uganda in 1947. Typically, the symptoms are mild and short-lived, but, Dr. Gupta noted, patients can experience fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye.
However, the recent Zika outbreak in the Americas among women in early stages of pregnancy is suspected of seriously harming their babies. One such birth defect that may occur is known as microcephaly – “a disorder in which the brain and skull don’t develop” and later on “can cause development and intellectual impairment,” explained Dr. Gupta.
Although a certain mosquito has been responsible for transmitting the virus, recently the CDC has found that the virus is now being transmitted sexually. There are several cases in which men, who traveled in countries where the Zika virus is prominent and have become infected, have since returned to the U.S. and have transmitted the disease to a partner.
Amidst the growing concern about the virus, some officials are reconsidering the use of DDT, an insecticide that has already been used to battle malaria and typhus, but is banned in over 40 countries including the U.S. The concern of using DDT is that it can lead to health problems among those who come in contact with it.
Lynn Goldman, an epidemiologist and pediatrician who is dean of Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, said using DDT would be “misguided and reckless.” Additionally, because the mosquito that transmits Zika is a daytime mosquito, the DDT would not be effective, she said. Instead, Goldman has suggested to try and control the mosquito breeding by using the insect repellent DEET. Similar sentiments were shared by Jonathan Chevrier, a professor of epidemiology at McGill University in Canada. Re-introducing the use of DDT, he said, “must be considered with extreme care”.
photo James Gathany/CDC/Handout via Reuters
the atlantic, scitechconnect/CDC