Should You Be Worried About the Zika Virus?

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This 2006 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a female Aedes aegypti mosquito in the process of acquiring a blood meal from a human host. On Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, U.S. health officials are telling pregnant women to avoid travel to Latin America and Caribbean countries with outbreaks of a tropical illness linked to birth defects. The Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites from Aedes aegypti and causes only a mild illness in most people. But there’s been mounting evidence linking the virus to a surge of a rare birth defect in Brazil. (James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)

This 2006 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a female Aedes aegypti mosquito in the process of acquiring a blood meal from a human host. 

By now, you have probably heard of the Zika virus. The virus came to the attention of the world over the past few months due to an outbreak in Brazil, in particular because it is now known to have the ability to cause birth defects in pregnant women. Microencephaly, “small head” , is one of the major potential problems. In addition to the brain developmental problems resulting in the small head, microencephaly often results in the death of the child within just a few years.

Should you be worried? Unless you travel to Brazil, or some other country which harbors the Zika virus you have very little to worry about. In Ohio, the chances of coming down with the Zika virus are as close to zero as you can get. There are cases being monitored in Ohio but those have come from people who traveled to countries where Zika virus is already a problem. This includes the recent announcement from the Cincinnati Department of Health that Cincinnati has recorded its first travel related case. Studies have determined that Zika virus can be transmitted sexually from a man to a woman.  One such case has been documented in Ohio, when a husband traveled to a Zika country, unknowingly contracted the virus, and then came home and unfortunately passed the virus to his wife.

The main reason we do not have to worry in Ohio is that the primary mosquito vector (can carry the disease), Aedes aegypti, is not found in Ohio because it cannot survive the winters. A suspected secondary mosquito vector, Aedes albopictus (the Asian Tiger Mosquito), can be found in Ohio but would still have to bite someone who already has the disease in order to pass (transmit) the disease to someone else. The Ohio Department of Health is currently reporting 20 cases [we have 88 counties]. So this is highly unlikely, again, a near zero chance.

The other big news item related to Zika is high profile people who are choosing not to attend the Olympic Games in Rio de Janero, Brazil. It is encouraging to know that when we have summer, Brazil is having their version of winter, consequently, just like we do not have mosquitoes in the winter, mosquito activity in Rio is greatly reduced in their winter as well. But no matter what happens in Rio, there is little need to worry in Ohio. One more thing, if you recently saw a news item that said Cincinnati is number eight on the list of US cities for exposure to the Zika virus, consider the source. First of all, it was released by a mosquito control company with a vested interest in you buying their services. Secondly, the claim was based on a CDC map that is clearly labeled “potential range” for Aedes aegypti [not actually confirmed], and lastly, it made no mention of the fact that Aedes aegpti does not currently exist in the state of Ohio, nor will it any time in the near future because they cannot survive Ohio winters. The bottom line is that if you do not want to get bit by mosquitoes then take the necessary precautions to reduce the chances. You can find these precautions at the Ohio Department of Health website, the US Center for Disease Control and Cincinnati area health organizations.

 

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