Zika Virus Outbreak Expected to Spread to the United States

January 25, 2016
Caitlyn Fitzpatrick

The current Zika virus outbreak has already made its way to 21 countries and territories in the Americas since May 2015, and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) revealed that it will likely persist in the United States.

The current Zika virus outbreak has already made its way to 21 countries and territories in the Americas since May 2015, and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) revealed that it will likely persist in the United States.

Zika has already been identified in the US — the first case was reported in Texas on January 12, 2016. However, they have not been locally transmitted cases and instead the patients became infected after visiting countries where the mosquito-borne illness has been. The list of infected countries so far include: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, and Venezuela.

“PAHO anticipates that Zika virus will continue to spread and will likely reach all countries and territories of the region where Aedes mosquitoes are found,” the statement said.

There’s multiple red flags for concern associated with Zika. For one, there’s no preventive vaccine or specific treatment for the virus. Also, when a pregnant woman becomes infected their child can be born with microcephaly — a condition which leaves an infant with a small brain and head size – which has already occurred in Hawaii. Although researchers have obtained the first complete genome sequence from this outbreak, there’s a lot left to learn.

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The PAHO identified two primary reasons that the virus has been moving so quickly. For one, the population in the Americas have not been exposed to Zika before so they never built up immunity to it. The other problem is that the main form of disease transmission, Aedes mosquitos, can be found across the region except for Canada and continental Chile.

Since there is no vaccine for Zika, prevention is key. The PAHO recommends the following:

  • Reduce and control the mosquito population by not promoting breeding grounds, such as containers that hold water
  • People living in areas where Aedes mosquitos can be found should use insect repellent and cover as much of the body as possible
  • Make sure to shut windows and doors to avoid mosquito contact
  • Pregnant women should be extra cautious

Officials in Brazil and Jamaica have already advised women to avoid pregnancy for up to two years. There’s no word if such a recommendation would come to the US if transmission continued.

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