Zika Virus: Should we panic?

by Gabriela Cruz

The recent spread of the Zika Virus has been concerning everyone lately, but there are several things you should know before canceling your trip. Zika has been found in most parts of South America, Mexico, Pacific Islands, and parts of Africa. Even though most parts of Mexico have been infected with ZIka, there are no reported cases in Belize. Still, it isn’t safe to say that Zika won’t spread anywhere else. Estimates predict as many as four million people could be infected by the end of the year. Thankfully, there are several ways to protect yourself when traveling to risky areas like Belize: wear long sleeved clothes and use Environmental Protection Agency registered insect repellents to prevent yourself from getting bitten (Sherwin-Williams Brands and 3M Company brands are recommended by the EPA); try to stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside; sleep under a mosquito net if you are outside at any time and for extra protection. Zika virus is primarily transmitted through the bite of an Aedes species mosquito that can also spread dengue and chikungunya viruses. Symptoms of the virus include fever, joint pain, conjunctivitis and rashes, it can last from a few days to a few weeks. Even though the Zika Virus is spreading at a high rate, being informed and aware of the situation is a first step into prevention.


ZIKA: Traveler’s Beware

by Sukhmani Kaur

As many HB students will be traveling soon across the globe, I find it important for everyone to be aware of the Zika virus sneaking up in our lives. Zika, the latest outbreak or pandemic to hit the world, is a mosquito borne, viral illness which has two main implications on our health. First, babies are born with microcephaly or “small heads’” with mental retardation. The second big concern is an autoimmune condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome in which parts of the peripheral nervous system are attacked, leading to weakness or tingling sensations in the limb. Sometimes the weakness or paralysis can lead to exhaustion of the respiratory muscles which results in difficulty breathing and occasionally even death.

The Zika virus was first reported in Rhesus monkeys in Uganda in 1947. The first human outbreak was noted in Uganda in 1952 and in the United Republic of Tanzania. It is then spread to Southeast Asia, and most recently to South America (Brazil) and Central America. Currently, there are 37 confirmed cases in the USA. Thus far, the cases identified in the USA are limited to people who have traveled to Central and South American countries.

Virus and Vector: The Zika virus is a Flaivirus. It is transmitted from humans to humans via the active day feeder mosquito, Aedes Aeqypti. The mosquito survives in mostly tropical conditions. This mosquito is also the vector for Dengue, Chikungunya, and Yellow Fever. Aedes thrives in standing water and trash. Therefore, a big part of the controlling the spread of infection is reducing standing water and cleaning up trash. There if no specific treatment available for Zika, with no vaccines available for prevention. It will be years before a vaccine comes to fruition.

Avoiding getting Zika: The best method of avoiding infection is the use of mosquito repellants. In addition, wearing long sleeves and pants is important to avoid getting bitten by the Aedes mosquito. Aedes often bites from the back and most people are not aware of being bitten, so have someone else check for bite marks or a rash. Reduction in contact between mosquitoes and people is crucial. Control of mosquito breeding by improving sanitation and use screen doors and mosquito nets are both effective.

Infection: Four of five people who are infected are asymptomatic. One out of five people develop a mild fever, skin rash, muscle and joint pains, headache, fatigue, and conjunctivitis (irritation of the eyes with redness). These symptoms last for 3-8 days. The incubation period is not clear to researchers yet. The main cause of concern is that in areas of Zika outbreaks, babies born to infected mothers have microcephaly. This risk however does not carry over to future pregnancies. The other major risk is of developing Guillian-Barre syndrome.

Diagnosis: The Zika virus and be isolated from blood samples and it is also diagnosed via the PCR (polymerase chain reaction).

The Centers for Disease Control have recently issued a warning for pregnant to “to-be” pregnant woman from traveling to the fourteen countries having an outbreak including: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.