'The best thing that people can do is pay attention to any potential breeding sites near their home, and any areas with standing water' -New Mexico state health official
BY RENE THOMPSON
What is Zika?
Zika virus is spread to people mostly through mosquito bites, although there are reports that Zika has been transmitted through sex via the semen of a man previously bitten by a Zika-carrying mosquito. In Brazil, where the virus is spreading rapidly, the virus has been found in urine and saliva, but it is unclear whether it can be transmitted to another person through those fluids.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. One out of four infected people develops symptoms of the disease.
Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since the outbreak began, there have been reports of people dying of Guillain-Barré syndrome after having been bitten by Zika-carrying mosquitoes.
What about pregnant women?
It is believed, although it has not been scientifically proven, that pregnant women who become infected with the Zika virus deliver babies with a condition called microcephaly, a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. During pregnancy, a baby’s head grows because the baby’s brain grows. Microcephaly can occur because a baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy or has stopped growing after birth, which results in a smaller head size.
In Brazil, since the first case was reported in May 2015, more than 3,500 babies have been born with microcephaly. By contrast, Brazil typically sees 100 to 120 cases of microcephaly in a year, but officials say those numbers may have missed some babies born with the condition.
The government of El Salvador recently warned women there not to get pregnant for at least a year, with the expectation that the Zika outbreak will wane by then, as other viral outbreaks have.
The World Health Organization declared a health emergency and called on researchers from many nations to share their research to confirm the Zika-microcephaly link and to identify how the virus does its damage once inside the human body. The CDC’s warning is not as severe. It warns pregnant women not to travel to Central America or have unprotected sex with someone who has been there.
Where did Zika come from?
The virus was isolated for the first time in 1947 in the Zika forest in Uganda. Since then, it has remained mainly in Africa, with small and sporadic outbreaks in Asia. In 2007, a major epidemic was reported on the island of Yap (Micronesia), where nearly 75 percent of the population was infected.
Where has it spread?
It’s throughout South America, Mexico, Central America, Cape Verde Island, the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico. Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a health emergency in four counties after at least nine cases of the mosquito-borne Zika illness were detected in Florida. Health officials believe all of the cases are related to people who contracted the disease while traveling to affected countries. In Dallas County, Texas, officials recently reported the first case of Zika in a woman they believed received the virus through sexual contact with someone who had been in Central America.
Scientists say sexual transmission is extremely rare. Doctors don’t know if a person needs to be sick with obvious symptoms at the time of sex in order to spread the virus through semen.
How did it get to Brazil?
It is believed that a member of a French Polynesian canoeing team was infected before the team traveled to Brazil early this year for a cone race.
What kinds of mosquitoes spread Zika and do we have them in New Mexico?
The Aedes aegypti mosquito and the Aedes albopictus mosquito both can spread Zika. Both can be found in Southern New Mexico in the Las Cruces, Carlsbad and Roswell areas. Those types of mosquitoes are also found in much larger areas of Southern Texas, and Southern Arizona.
What do New Mexico health officials say?
Dr. Paul Ettestad, the New Mexico Department of Health’s expert in diseases that spread from animals to humans, said DOH is alerting the state’s health facilities on how to spot the symptoms of Zika. He said summer, when it rains, could be worrisome. “We do have two types of mosquitoes that can transmit the Zika virus,” he said.
“The best thing that people can do is pay attention to any potential breeding sites near their home, and any areas with standing water, such as flower pots, rain barrels, or even standing water within the home,” Dr. Ettestad said.
Rene Thompson is a staff writer at ABQ Free Press.