You have likely heard several news stories recently about the Zika Virus, a mosquito-borne illness spreading rapidly through South and Latin America. Within the past couple of days alone, it’s been on NBC News, CNN, and The New York Times to name a few. Usually, the disease causes headaches, fever, rash, and joint pain, although most people never exhibit any symptoms whatsoever.
So why all the headlines? Zika Virus has gotten the most attention in Brazil where over 1.5 million cases have been reported. The virus has been linked to microephaly, a condition that causes miscarriages and severe defects in infants. In Brazil alone, over 3,500 microephaly cases have been found. Although it hasn’t been proven that Zika Virus causes microephaly, the numbers of infant deaths and deformities has spiked since Zika was found in Brazil last May. The first case of Zika Virus directly linking it to microephaly was reported in Hawaii this month. The CDC confirmed that the baby was infected previously and most likely contracted the virus from the mother while she was living in Brazil last year.
Zika is currently active in over 14 countries in the Western hemisphere including Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, Brazil, and Haiti. Within the last year, 12 cases have been reported in the U.S., although all were foreign travelers and did not contract the virus here. The Center for Disease Control has issued a travel alert for individuals traveling to and from these countries. Pregnant women are also urged to delay travel to affected countries if possible. If not, the CDC has published an extensive list of tips to prevent mosquito bites.
While Zika Virus cases in the U.S. are few and far between at the moment, CDC officials warn that the virus could spread extremely rapidly if and when it hits here. The mosquito species known for carrying the virus (Aedes and Asian Tiger) have a wide range of habitats that extend from the subtropical regions of Florida and Georgia, to the midwest, and as far north as New York.
While there is no treatment or vaccine for Zika, those with symptoms are urged to go to the hospital immediately. Even as I type this, a company called Oxitec is developing a genetically modified mosquito designed to combat diseases such as Zika Virus and dengue fever. These self-limiting mosquitoes (whose offspring do not survive) have proven extremely successful in test locations so far. Wild mosquito larvae dropped 82% in one neighborhood over an eight-month period! Due to the recent spike in Zika Virus cases, Oxitec has expanded its testing to an area of over 60,000 people in São Paulo, Brazil and hopes to open a laboratory capable of protecting many more.
Stories like this, while scary and sometimes heartbreaking, are why we at Mosquito Joe do what we do. The importance of mosquito control is often underestimated, but you should remember that these tiny insects are the deadliest animals in the world, carrying diseases that cause severe illness and death. Check out the CDC page on the Zika Virus for more information and advice. The more we know about mosquito-borne illnesses, the more we can do to advocate for mosquito control and beat the bloodsuckers once and for all!