The Zika virus, an international public health emergency as declared by World Health Organization, has spread as far north as Mexico by active transmission. The virus could potentially reach into the southern United States, specifically Florida and Texas.
There were 273 travel associated cases reported in the United States. As of March 23, more than half the states in the U.S. have reported travel associated cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Production.
The Virus is new to the Western Hemisphere, but has been circulating in Asia and Africa for more than 50 years, with the first Western cases were reported in Brazil.
Officials are working on a vaccine, including UConn pathobiologist Paulo Verardi. As of late-January, Verardi said that unless people are traveling or planning to travel to these areas while pregnant, people should not be worried.
Vaccinations take years and millions of dollars to develop, so the virus will continue to spread for some time. Some have questioned why the vaccine was not developed earlier, if the virus has been around for over 50 years. According to a New York Times piece, the symptoms are mild and frequently unclear, and compared to other virus, Zika is a mild virus.
According to the UConn Student Health Services, nurses and physicians have been alerted to the symptoms of the Zika virus infection. If the virus is suspected, SHS will report the case to the local public health authorities. The SHS does not suggest travel bans for students and faculty visiting the affected countries.
Ricky Andrade, a sixth-semester allied health major, said Zika is a typical tropical mosquito virus.
“On the East Coast, it probably won’t go past South Carolina,” Andrade said. “On the West Coast, it’ll probably move to southern/mid California. I wouldn’t think of it as any more worrisome than West Nile Virus.”
The Zika virus is spread by the Aedes genus and is also sexually transmitted through semen. The virus has mild symptoms and hospitalization is usually not required.
Officials are mainly concerned with the virus in pregnant women. Babies born to mothers with the Zika virus have abnormally small heads, a condition called microcephaly.
Microcephaly can damage the brain, which may cause developmental delays, intellectual deficits or hearing loss.
Active transmission of the virus has been reported in most Central and South American countries except Argentina, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Belize.
Officials from the CDC, are encouraging those who travel to areas affected by Zika to abstain from sex, or use protection in all sexual encounters. Mosquito bite prevention practices are also advised, such as wearing full clothing and using bug repellant sprays.
Pregnant women who have visited the affected countries should have a blood test.
“This is truly a very special emerging disease,” Verardi said. “Unlike Ebola virus infection that causes severe symptoms and in most cases death, infection with Zika virus is typically asymptomatic, but sadly extremely consequential for pregnant women and their babies. It’s really an unprecedented, fluid situation, with much more to learn.”