The Zika virus danger is becoming more clear, now that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that the mosquito-borne virus causes an excruciating birth defect called microcephaly. While not a public health emergency in temperate climates like the Yakima Valley, the disease is a serious one, and the situation does pose concern in this era of easy travel to places where the virus is prevalent.
Mosquitoes of the Aedes genus spread the virus, to potentially devastating effect. The Seattle Times reported that a Seattle expert, Dr. William Dobyns, has chronicled cases in which babies’ brains shrink and skulls collapse inside the womb, defects that are more severe than originally thought. Many babies die shortly after birth, and those who survive are likely to have severe neurological and developmental problems.
Washington’s first confirmed case came in February, when a Mason County man tested positive after returning from the South Pacific. Dozens of other state residents who have traveled to affected areas are anxiously awaiting test results.
A number of people throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean have contracted the virus, including travelers who bring it back to the United States. Washington’s first confirmed case came in February, when a Mason County man tested positive after returning from the South Pacific. Dozens of other state residents who have traveled to affected areas are anxiously awaiting test results.
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Dobyns warns that the virus is in southern Mexico and moving north. The CDC and National Institutes of Health say the transmission of the virus by mosquitoes may hit the United States by late spring and summer, especially in southern regions. While the U.S. employs effective mosquito control and has a population that’s aware of mosquito-borne diseases, the problem is likely to spread. It falls on people to limit exposure to the virus, monitor any potential symptoms and get tested if they fear they have the virus.
Locally, residents know about watching for mosquitoes at dawn and dusk; the Aedes mosquitoes are active throughout the day. Travelers to affected areas are advised to wear long sleeves and pants, and to use insect repellent.
Zika symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes and muscle pain. While women of child-bearing age must be especially on alert, those of both genders must be aware that it also can be transmitted through sexual contact. Male travelers returning from Zika-infested areas are advised to use condoms or refrain from sex for eight weeks after returning to make sure symptoms don’t develop. Health officials say couples considering pregnancy should wait until they are sure they are clear of the virus.
Widespread testing, along with other preventive steps, will cost money at the federal level. The Obama administration has requested $1.9 billion to combat Zika; so far, $589 million allocated to Ebola has been shifted to fighting Zika. Congress must stay aware of the virus and be willing to take the needed steps against it.
The virus isn’t likely to pose a direct threat to the Northwest. But modern travel has enabled easy movement of people — people who need to take care if they think they have been exposed to a virus with a devastating aftermath.