Thursday, May 26, 2016

Some Experts Question Extent of Zika Threat to U.S. – U.S. News & World Report

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter


THURSDAY, Might 26, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Are health officials in the United States overreacting to the threat posed by the Zika virus this summer?

Some leading insect and infectious-diseases experts believe so, arguing that the mosquito-borne virus is unlikely to become a widespread hazard to pregnant women throughout the United States.

“I believe the risk for Zika actually setting up transmission cycles that become established in the continental U.S. is near zero,” said Chris Barker, a mosquito-borne virus researcher at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

He said Zika ought to follow a pattern similar to others tropical diseases spread by mosquito bites, such as dengue fever and chikungunya, which have actually failed to gain any considerable foothold in the United States.

“We do a quite good job of shielding ourselves from mosquito bites in this country, along with our screening and air conditioning. That appears to be enough to limit the risk for dengue, and we believe the same will certainly be true for Zika,” Barker said.

If that proves true, then small Zika outbreaks could occur in southern states where the breeds of mosquito that carry these diseases are most active, Barker and others experts said.

Zika virus is frightening because it’s the initial mosquito-borne illness known to cause a brain-related birth defect — in this case microcephaly — if an expectant mother becomes infected.

Microcephaly results in babies born along with abnormally small heads and brains. Nearly 5,000 babies have actually been born along with microcephaly in Brazil, the epicenter of the Zika epidemic, according to the Globe Health Organization.

Given the threat to pregnant women and their fetuses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has actually selected to err on the adverse of caution in its Zika response, said agency spokesman Tom Skinner.

“The bottom line is that no one can easily predict along with absolute certainty what’s going to happen here in the United States as soon as it involves local transmission of Zika virus,” Skinner said. “Lots of areas in the U.S. have actually the type of mosquitoes that can easily transmit this virus. We simply can’t predict along with any absolute certainty what’s going to happen.”

At the same time, federal health officials know that some portions of the United States are a lot more vulnerable compared to others, he said.

“Based on just what we’ve seen in years past along with dengue and chikungunya, we undoubtedly wouldn’t be surprised to see Zika emerge in an area like Florida or Texas or somewhere along the Gulf Coast or the Mexico border,” Skinner said. “While those areas are most likely to be a priority, we hope to make certain that others states — where we know these mosquitoes can easily possibly transmit the virus — are all set to the extent they can easily be prepared.”

To limit any potential spread of Zika, health officials on the federal, state and local levels are deploying a three-pronged strategy: boosting mosquito control; expanding their ability to test for Zika; and urging the public to protect themselves versus mosquitoes.

However, officials acknowledge it won’t be feasible to test every woman who’s pregnant or could become pregnant to see if she has actually been infected along with the virus. That’s why self-protection and mosquito control are critical components of the Zika strategy, officials say.

Gulf Coast states like Florida, Louisiana and Texas are most at risk for local Zika outbreaks as this year’s mosquito season progresses, agreed Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior associate at the University of Pittsburgh’s UPMC focus for Health Security in Baltimore.

The reason: those are the states in which Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes “are abundant and/or in which Aedes-spread diseases such as dengue and chikungunya have actually had local transmission,” Adalja said.

The Aedes mosquitoes can easily range farther north, yet it’s highly unlikely that they’ll flourish enough to carry Zika in to a lot more northern states, said Laura Harrington, chair of entomology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

“Here in Brand-new York state, there’s been a lot of tension placed on mosquito-control districts to do as much as they can. And, they’re truly strapped for resources, and there’s not a huge risk of transmission compared to a place like Florida,” Harrington said.

Much of the national concern stems from maps released recently by the CDC showing that the Aedes mosquitoes can easily range as far north as Brand-new York, Ohio, Kansas, Missouri and California, she said.

“They’re showing this mosquito in places where there’s no means you’re going to locate them,” Harrington said. “It’s truly unfortunate, because it’s causing a lot of hysteria in places where individuals ought to be focusing on others health issues, like Lyme disease.”

All three experts — Barker, Adalja and Harrington — agreed that Zika needs a durable public health response, yet it must be focused on the southern states most at risk.

“Those are the places that ought to have actually a lot more resources,” Harrington said.

Florida is the state in the continental United States that warrants the most concern about Zika, along with Texas close behind, Barker said.

“They have actually higher travel volumes to places where Zika is transmitted regularly, and many travelers returning,” he said, referring to Latin America and the Caribbean. “We don’t have actually evidence for local transmission in those places (Gulf Coast states) at this point, yet individuals ought to be aware the chance exists.”

At the same time, Barker said individuals shouldn’t alter any travel plans within the United States based on pertains to over Zika.

“We are starting to see individuals wondering whether they ought to take vacations to places like Georgia or Louisiana. And, I believe the answer is to be aware of the risks that mosquito bites pose, yet I wouldn’t be canceling vacations to most U.S. states at this point,” he said.

So just what can easily women that are pregnant or preparation to become pregnant do to protect themselves and their fetuses from mosquito bites? They ought to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, use mosquito repellent as soon as outside, and remain indoors as much as possible.

These women ought to additionally use condoms or refrain from sex along with a male partner if they are living in an energetic Zika area.

And individuals can easily cut their local risk by eliminating mosquito habitats from their property. Conquer any source of standing water — such as buckets, plastic covers, toys or old tires. Empty and adjustment the water in birdbaths, fountains, wading pools and potted plants once a week. Also, drain or fill along with dirt any temporary pools of water, and sustain swimming pool water treated and circulating, according to the CDC.

For a lot more on Zika virus, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This Q&A will certainly tell you what you have to know regarding Zika.

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