Many people were understandably concerned when in 2015 reports of the Zika virus and the potential health risks it posed filled the media. Scientists discovered the Zika virus in 1947, but many people in the United States were unaware of the illness until it began to spread in South America. Concerns then increased about Zika reaching the U.S. Here is what you need to know.
Understand the Virus
Zika is a viral infection that spreads through the bite of an infected mosquito or by person-to-person contact. Pregnant mothers infected with Zika can pass the disease on to their fetus and others can contract the illness by contact with the bodily fluids of someone with the virus. Sexual contact and blood transfusions have both been known to spread the virus.
The most concerning aspect of the virus is the potential for birth defects to infants that come into contact with the virus while still in the womb. The possible birth defects include partially collapsed skulls and severe microcephaly, an abnormal brain development that results in a smaller than normal skull. Eye problems, joint damage, and clubfoot are also possible defects.
Know the Symptoms
Most people do not realize they have the illness because they have no symptoms. The symptoms are often mild when they do appear. Most will have a flu-like illness that includes joint and muscle pain, a headache, and fatigue. Unlike the flu, Zika also can cause a body rash and conjunctivitis. The discomfort from the virus can last for a week but often goes away sooner.
Avoid Unnecessary Panic
Americans need to be vigilant about protecting themselves but should not panic. Most states have reported cases of the illness to the CDC, but in all but two states the people contracted the virus outside the country or from a partner after their return from a trip. Texas and Florida remain the only locations with known local mosquito-borne Zika illnesses.
The willingness of the public to follow the guidelines set by the CDC seems to have helped reduce the local risk in Florida and Texas. In 2016, there were 218 locally-contracted cases in Florida and 6 cases in Texas. The numbers dropped to two in Florida and five in Texas the following year. No new incidents from local mosquitos occurred in either state in 2018.
The statistics sound favorable, but people should not believe there is no cause for concern. The Aedes mosquito is the culprit that spreads the Zika virus. The species is an invasive one that originated in Africa and spread to the US through travel and imported goods. The species spreads Zika, dengue fever, and other illnesses, and it is now known to be in California.
Keep Family Protected
The lack of symptoms can give a false sense of security that leads to the spread of the virus. Someone returning from an area known for mosquitos that spread the virus should practice safe sex for at least three weeks or throughout a pregnancy term if their partner is currently pregnant. A blood test is the only way to diagnosis if someone has the virus.
Keep mosquitos out of the home by inspecting window screens and sealing any gaps around doors and windows. Pregnant women should wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outside. Do not allow water to collect around the outside of the home and have the property treated professionally to keep the population of the insects under control.
At Area-Wide Exterminators, we help with mosquito control around homes and businesses. Contact us to learn more about the steps you can take to reduce the risk to your family from mosquito-borne illnesses.