Prevention best way to avoid Zika Virus

May 30, 2017

By Amelia Neumeister “It’s a story that begins with a bug,” said Dr. Heather Taylor, associate professor of Pediatrics at the College of Community Health Sciences, as she began her May 1 lecture as part of the Mini Medical School Program hosted by the College and UA’s OLLI program. In her talk, titled “Zika Virus,” Taylor explained that the mosquito Aedes Aegypti is the vector, or carrier, of the Zika Virus, as well as three other major diseases – Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever and Chikungunya Virus. She said this mosquito is such a good carrier of these diseases because it has developed an immunity to many pesticides and other chemicals, and will lay eggs in standing water. Almost 40 percent of the world’s population is at risk for the diseases carried by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, Taylor said. The Zika Virus was first identified in Uganda’s Ziika Forest in 1947, and the first human case was documented in 1952. Over time, several small outbreaks were identified, with the first large outbreak occurring in 2007 in the South Pacific, on Yap Island in Micronesia. More than 73 percent of the island’s population was infected. It wasn’t until 2015 when Brazil experienced a major outbreak of the Zika Virus that research about the disease began to change, Taylor said. Before this outbreak, the Zika Virus was considered a mild disease with only about a quarter of those infected showing symptoms, and with symptoms lasting for about a week. After the outbreak in Brazil, researchers found a link between Zika Virus, microcephaly infants and Guillain-Barre Syndrome. “Zika Virus is playing from very different rules that the other flaviviruses that are mosquito born,” Taylor said. She said the Zika Virus breaks the rules because it is not spread the same way as other viruses. “We know that it’s not spread through touching, coughing, sneezing or breastfeeding. So it’s different from other viruses in that it’s not spread by respiratory secretions.” The Zika Virus is spread by mosquito bites, blood and sexual intercourse. While testing for the Zika Virus exists, it is not yet widespread. “At this point, the health departments are controlling Zika testing so they can make sure the people that need those tests can have access to them,” Taylor said. “The CDC is controlling testing for people who really need it – people who have been exposed to the virus and who are symptomatic or pregnant.” Unfortunately, there is no treatment for the Zika Virus, Taylor said. “The only weapon we have for fighting it is prevention.” Four vaccines are currently being tested and are targeted for females who have the potential to get pregnant in the future. Testing is also underway on genetically modified mosquitos designed to fight the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. There are several stages of prevention, Taylor said, “But they all go back to that bug.” The stages are: avoid being bitten; avoid traveling to areas that have experienced an outbreak; and if travel is necessary, or if you live in an affected area, wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants, spray the insecticide Permethrin on your clothing, use a bed net, if indoors keep the doors closed and use air conditioning and keep screens on doors and windows.