By Kat Riddler, Editor-In-Chief
April showers bring May flowers—as well as standing water for breeding mosquitoes.
The What’s Current Wednesday discussion for April, led by Roberta Lavin, associate dean of academic programs in the College of Nursing, was centered on the successful response to the Zika virus. The discussion was held in Century Room C of the Millennium Student Center at 2 p.m. on April 5 and was the last session of the monthly What’s Current Wednesday programs for the semester.
The Zika virus was first identified in 1947 in Uganda and is part of the virus family Flaviviridae. The name Zika comes from a forest in Uganda where the virus was first discovered. Before 2015, Zika outbreaks primarily occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.
Those infected may or may not have visible symptoms. Symptoms that can occur are fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain, and headache. Those symptoms can last for several days to a week. Usually people infected with Zika do not go to the hospital, though they rarely die from the virus. Once a person has been infected with the virus, it is likely that they are protected from future infections.
Zika can be transmitted through mosquito bites, from pregnant women to their fetus, through sexual activity, and possibly through blood transfusion, though that has not yet been confirmed by the CDC. Zika outbreaks occur seasonally with the mosquito cycles, like other viruses spread by mosquitoes. Once an infected person is bitten by a mosquito elsewhere on their body, the mosquito becomes infected for about a week and can transmit the disease to others whom it bites. It is hard to document how many cases of Zika have occurred because symptoms can be mild.
While the symptoms seem mild for adults, the virus poses a larger danger for women who contract the virus and are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Zika can cause microcephaly and severe brain defects for the baby. The virus has also been linked to complications like miscarriages, stillbirth, and other birth defects. The Centers for Disease Control has noted increased reports of the rare nervous system disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome in areas affected by Zika.
Blood and urine tests can be administered to find out if a person has Zika, and individuals are usually tested following recent travel to areas known to have the virus. If infected, the individual should get plenty of rest, drink fluids to prevent dehydration, take medicine like acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain, and potentially take prescribed medicine after consulting with a healthcare provider. There is currently no vaccine for the virus.
One measure individuals can take to avoid contracting the Zika virus is preventing mosquito bites. The CDC suggests wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, treating clothing and gear with permethrin or buying pre-treated items, and using Environmental Protection Agency–registered repellents with active ingredients like DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. The CDC warns people not to use insect repellents on babies younger than two months old and not to use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than three years old. Lavin said that DEET-based products are the most effective for avoiding mosquito bites.
The CDC also suggests staying in places with air conditioning and window and door screens, taking steps to control mosquitoes inside and outside the home, using mosquito netting over babies younger than two months old, sleeping under a mosquito net if air conditioned or screened rooms are not available, and using abstinence or a condom to avoid spreading the virus through sexual activity. Travel advisories are also available on the CDC website so that individuals can take preventative measures when traveling in those areas.
What’s Current Wednesdays are monthly forums for faculty and student discussions about current events, co-sponsored by The Current and The New York Times, with support from Community Outreach & Engagement at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.