How Zika spreads (and who’s to blame)
With all the headlines flying around about Zika, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. We’ve got your Zika questions covered:
What is Zika? How is it spread?
Zika is a virus primarily spread by the Aedes genus of mosquito, which usually bites during the day. It can be detected in a person’s blood for about a week after infection. During that time, a mosquito that bites that person can acquire the virus and pass it on to the next person they bite.
Many people who are infected do not show symptoms, but those who do generally have fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes, which can last several days to a week. See your doctor if you develop symptoms and live or have recently traveled to an area with the virus.
Besides mosquito bites, the virus can be spread through sex, from a pregnant woman to her fetus, or via blood transfusion, although this last method has not yet been confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What is the risk?
The main risk of Zika virus is that it can cause severe brain defects to a fetus. This includes microcephaly — an unusually small head — as well as vision, hearing, and growth problems.
CDC research also shows a strong link between Zika and a disease of the nervous system called Guillain-Barré syndrome, but only a small percentage of people with Zika develop GBS. Overall, the illness is very rare. An estimated 3,000 to 6,000 people in the U.S. develop GBS each year, but most cases tend to occur for no known reason.
Dr. Matthew DeGenarro of Florida International University’s Laboratory of Mosquito Genetics and Behavior points out that there is a difference in testing positive for Zika versus showing symptoms. “Only 1 in 5 people who get infected will show symptoms,” he says.
How many people have been affected nationwide?
According to the CDC, 433 pregnant women in the 50 states and Washington DC have shown lab evidence of Zika infection — although this number is from July 21, before the most recent cases reported in Miami. In just the five U.S. territories alone, which include Puerto Rico, there have been almost as many: 422 pregnant women with positive lab results.
As for total infection numbers: There were 1,658 reported Zika cases in the 50 states and DC on July 27 — again, right before the most recent cases in Miami. On that date, the number of reported cases in the five U.S. territories was much higher: 4,750 infections.
When did Zika get to Miami? How many people have it?
Last week, the Florida Department of Health first announced that four cases of Zika in Miami were likely transmitted by local mosquitos. On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott announced that the state health department had increased its count of locally acquired Zika cases to 14. Before this recent news, the main concern regarding Zika transmission was travelers returning from an area with infected mosquitos. As of Tuesday, the state says there are 102 travel-related cases of Zika in Miami-Dade.
What areas of Miami are affected so far? What does the CDC travel warning mean?
The CDC has issued a travel advisory for Wynwood. Pregnant women are advised not to travel to the area. Pregnant women who live in or frequently travel there should be tested in their first and second trimesters. Their sex partners who have been to the neighborhood since June 15 are advised to use condoms — and if they have already had unprotected sex with their pregnant partners, they should consult their doctor and get tested for Zika. Couples who have been to Wynwood who are thinking of starting a family should consult their healthcare provider. This advisory is the first time the CDC has ever issued a travel warning for any part of the continental U.S.
The specific affected area, as per the Florida health department: “The exact location of where DOH believes there are active transmissions of the Zika virus is within the boundaries of the following area: NW 5th Avenue to the west, US 1 to the east, NW/NE 38thStreet to the north and NW/NE 20th Street to the south. This area is about one square mile.”
What if I’m traveling?
Pregnant women should not travel to areas affected by Zika. If you must, consult your doctor.
I’m pregnant, and I went to Wynwood last week. What do I do?
As per the CDC warning, pregnant women who frequent the neighborhood should be tested in their first and second trimesters.
For more information on testing, call the the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County at 305-324-2400.
How long has Zika been around?
It was first identified in Uganda in 1947 and since then, outbreaks have been recorded in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. The CDC notes that there have probably been previous outbreaks in many locations that went unreported because the symptoms can mirror that of other diseases and illnesses.
What can I do to protect myself and my family?
Take it from the CDC: “The best way to prevent Zika is to prevent mosquito bites.” Here are some tips on products and strategies to help limit your exposure:
▪ Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding can use insect repellent with one of the following active ingredients: DEET and Picaridin, found in such products as Off!, Cutter and Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus. These are EPA-registered insect repellents.
▪ Most insect repellent can be used on children. Follow instructions. Do not apply repellent to babies under 2 months old.
▪ Wear clothing that covers arms and legs. Use mosquito netting to cover cribs, strollers and baby carriers.
▪ Use screens on windows and doors and get rid of standing water.
▪ And, if you think you’ve recently been exposed, practice safe sex.