What everyone needs to know about the Zika virus


It’s never pleasant to be bitten by a mosquito, but currently it could be downright dangerous. Dr. Karen Haught, Tulare County health officer, is urging those who are traveling to Mexico and Central and South American countries to take precautions against mosquito bites to prevent contracting the Zika virus.

In fact, pregnant women and women considering becoming pregnant are advised not to travel at this time to countries where the Zika virus is widespread. These extra precautions are warranted because the Zika virus is transmitted from mother to baby and can cause a severe birth defect called microcephaly in the infant. 

Babies with microcephaly have abnormally small heads, and most wind up with stunted brain development. Additionally, the virus has been associated with miscarriage and fetal loss.

In an adult, the symptoms are more mild. The mosquito-borne virus will produce symptoms such as mild illness with fever, joint and muscle pain, skin rash, and redness of the eyes. Symptoms may last two to seven days after a mosquito bite and the virus stays in the blood system for about one week. 

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is a vector for transmitting several tropical fevers, including the Zika virus. The mosquito-borne virus will spread into some parts of the southern United States during the upcoming mosquito season, public health officials predict.

At this time, there has been no local transmission of Zika in the United States. However, about 273 residents have acquired Zika through travel to countries where the virus is active, primarily Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Although there is no evidence that the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes present in Tulare County carry the Zika virus, travelers may become infected and inadvertently spread the virus, which can be passed through blood transfusions and sexual contact. The virus is not transmitted from a cough or a sneeze.

There are no vaccines and no medications to speed up recovery; the best form of prevention is protection against getting mosquito bites. If heading to the tropics, travelers should protect themselves by using mosquito repellent; protecting skin from exposure to mosquitoes by wearing hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants; using mosquito nets for sleeping; and staying in screened-in or enclosed areas.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito can breed in areas with small amounts of water, so especially this time of year, residents should be aware and eliminate as much as is feasible any standing water such as swimming pools, water features, discarded tires, and other items that hold water, even if it’s just left over from a recent rainstorm.

Information for pregnant women and women who may become pregnant may be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cvc.gov/zika.

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What the experts are saying…
Reinvent, a media company in San Francisco that gathers top innovators in video conversations, held a video meeting of a group of pandemic experts to discuss how the U.S. can lead the world in preventing, detecting, and responding to pandemics, starting with Zika. Here are five key points:
1. Zika will hit the U.S. and continue to spread. 
2. The global effort to fight Zika is imbalanced and underfunded. 
3. The science is being developed to fight Zika but the political will is still needed. 
4. What is happening now globally is just the tip of the iceberg.
5. The global infrastructure for dealing with future epidemics needs to be reinvented.
To view the video and read the blog post, click here.

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