NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, January 21, 2016, 4:48 PM
A female Aedes aegypti mosquito acquires a blood meal on the arm of a researcher in Sao Paulo’s University, Brazil. Brazil has had 3,500 cases of birth defects since October and mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus are to blame.
The latest buzz over Zika, the mosquito-borne virus, comes down to this: Be aware but not afraid. Unless you’re pregnant, in which case the advice is to be very cautious about where they travel.
About one in five people bitten by a mosquito carrying the Zika virus come down with a flu-like virus. Symptoms include joint pains and pink eye. There is no vaccine or medicine to treat the virus, which has hit 12 in the U.S. and thousands overseas.
“There has been a big explosion of Zika in 2015,” says Dr. Jorge Parada, an epidemiologist at Loyola Medical School and a medical advisor to the National Pest Management Association, a nonprofit trade group.
“The million-dollar question is if and when it may become established in the U.S.,” Parada says. “There is no particular reason why these can’t get to the southern U.S. and that is what everyone is worrying about with Zika.”
For pregnant women, the risk is great. Getting infected early in a pregnancy can lead to severe brain damage in the baby.
The virus was first identified in Africa in 1947. Now it’s gaining attention because of the skyrocketing number of cases of microcephaly in babies of women who were bitten. The severe birth defect leads to abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development.
Some 3,500 babies were born with microcephaly in Brazil just between October 2015 and January 2016. The year before, there were 147 such cases.
Many will require constant care and never be independent. And many die very young; others are blind and deaf.
A female Aedes mosquito in the process of acquiring a blood meal from a human host. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned pregnant travelers to postpone travel to countries where the virus has shown up.
To protect American travelers, the CDC has issued a travel advisory to 13 countries and Puerto Rico. The government is warning travelers WHAT to Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela.
The CDC recommends that pregnant women consider postponing travel to anywhere with the Zika virus. And it warns that women considering becoming pregnant check with their doctors before traveling to countries where there have been outbreaks.
The 12 cases in the U.S., reported during 2015 and through Jan. 20, 2016, were all contracted while traveling abroad, a CDC spokesman said Thursday.
As of now, no one is required to report Zika cases to the CDC. But the center is working with the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists to change that.
The only way to avoid Zika is not to get bitten by a mosquito carrying it.
“The chances of getting it in the U.S. are very slim,” says Jim Fredericks, an entomologist with the National Pest Management Association.
Fredericks adds: “Protecting yourself from mosquito bites is a very good idea. There are a couple of ways, especially if traveling. Cover up to the extent that you can. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Use mosquito repellent on exposed skin.”