There’s been a lot of talk about the Zika Virus lately, especially now that, according to the CDC, 258 cases have been diagnosed in the United States (as of March 16th) and double especially since the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio are just months away. Considering that most of those cases were contracted in Latin America and the Caribbean, you can imagine why spectators, supporters, athletes and pretty much everyone living in the US are concerned.
Zika is “spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito” and in recent news it was discovered that it can also be spread through sexual intercourse with an individual who has already contracted the disease. The CDC reports that back in May 2015 “the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil and on Feb 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).”
So is this alarm pre-mature or blown out of proportion? Or is there a legitimate cause for concern? Well, according to Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization in briefing on Zika back in January, the disease “is now spreading explosively,” and she continues to say “the level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty.” Two words you really don’t want to hear in the same breath when it comes to disease are “alarm” and “uncertainty,” but unfortunately that’s the current state when it comes to Zika.
So what do you need to know about this virus that has people pretty freaked out. It depends on where you live, what your current life situation is and if you plan to have unprotected sex or visit the tropics any time soon. That said, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the upcoming Rio Olympics given the potential damage that Zika can do in that area and around the world, to locals, visitors, athletes and more. Here’s what you need to know now.
How Do You Get Zika?
This infectious disease is typically transmitted when a mosquito carrying the virus bites you, thus infecting you with the disease. In addition, recent findings show that the Zika virus can also be passed from one individual to another through sexual intercourse if one of those two people has the virus.
Where Can You Catch It?
Currently the countries that have reported cases of Zika are mostly limited with Latin and Central America including Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador, as well as islands in the Caribbean such as Aruba, Jamaica, Saint Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Zika has also been reported in Puerto Rico, which means the mosquitos carrying this disease are traveling north. For a complete, up-to-date list of countries reporting cases of Zika you can check back here. And as far as where this disease could spread as the seasons change and mosquitos travel to new tropical climates, the concern is real. As Everyday Health reports, Peter Jay Hotez, MD, PhD, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, says, “I think we have to proceed along a worst-case scenario that the Gulf Coast is at risk. We’re vulnerable…I’m not an alarmist. But I am worried about a Zika outbreak on the Gulf Coast. That includes areas around Houston, New Orleans, and Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida, which are all potential hot zones for tropical diseases because mosquitoes thrive there.”
What Are the Risks?
Generally speaking, the symptoms of Zika are mild and go away with time. Some people never experience any symptoms at all, and those who do typically get a fever, rash, joint pain, headaches etc. The real risk is if a pregnant woman were to contract this disease, the unborn child could contract microcephaly, which is a serious neurological condition that can cause mental retardation and several developmental delays.
Do I Need to be Worried?
If you do not travel to any of the high-risk areas, and you do not engage in unprotected sex with anyone else who has visited those countries, then you should be fine. That said, there is real concern with the upcoming Olympic games, that US travelers are bringing the disease back to the states with them, and with such a huge population traveling to Brazil, and then traveling back home, there could be a massive surge in Zika cases in the future. And because there is no cure for this disease, there’s reason to be worried about an epidemic. Of course, there is still a lot we don’t know about this disease and there are plenty of conspiracy theories about just how accurate the information being reported is, but the bottom line is that there’s a lot of potential risk and a lot that can go really really wrong if Zika gets out of control.