Zika may soon be coming to a home near you. The virus spreads through mosquito bites, blood, and sex. In the womb it laces rapidly through early brain cells of infants, destroying enough of them to create small heads, or microcephaly. In adults the virus can provoke Guillain-Barre disease, a horrible neurological condition where the white matter myelin sheath of nerve cells is immunologically assaulted, leading to paralysis and sometimes death. Other conditions may be caused by Zika; it’s too early to tell. Travelers to Zika infested countries, like Brazil, can carry the disease back with them. If they are then bitten by mosquitoes, they can spread the virus to local insects, which can provoke generalized epidemics. If people give blood when infected, the blood supply in turn can propagate the disease. Infected individuals, aware or not, can spread the virus through unprotected sex.
The president has asked for $1.8 billion to be spent on Zika preparedness. Congress’s response so far – forget about it. Sadly this is not a surprise. A House of Representatives which has voted more than 60 times to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act should not be expected to spend any money on any health care bill in the middle of an election campaign.
Yet this is foolish. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has pointed out that it’s better to spend the money early, when prevention efforts really counts, than later. We can only hope that politicians opposed to government should, while in government, at least want government to work. Here again, harbingers are not good. According to Irwin Redlener of Columbia University, special funds for general health preparedness have been cut 30% in the last ten years; hospital funds more than 50%.
What Areas of the U.S. Are Most at Risk?
According to the CDC, the most likely spots for generalized mosquito borne infection are Florida, Texas and Hawaii. It’s well worth looking at the CDC’s own guidelines to state health departments of what to do to prepare for Zika; see-. Of course, Zika will probably first be spread by travelers back from affected regions in Latin America and the Caribbean. That means that all areas around the world can experience Zika – including all fifty states.
What Can Be Done Now?
You look at how virus might spread, and then prevent it. You consider the most vulnerable populations – in this case, pregnant women or women who might become pregnant, and protect them.
The first big issue is mosquito control. You constantly monitor if local mosquitoes are infected. As Aedes aegypti also spread other illnesses, you try to rid the land of them.
To do that, you can spray on the ground. You can use aerial spraying. The CDC has different stages of further infection control if a case develops.
In terms of what you personally can do, you don’t leave around open bottles, cans, receptacles which can fill with stagnant water that mosquitoes like. This has turned out to be a major problem in Latin America.
Next up is travelers. The true disaster comes when returning, infected travelers are bitten by local mosquitoes. The CDC requests people who have come from Zika infested areas actively try to avoid mosquito bites for three weeks. Those measures may include: screens on windows; staying in air conditioned indoor spaces; using insect repellents when outside. As infection can also be borne by blood and sex, careful histories by people giving blood become essential. Condoms can also prove very protective.
Lastly, pregnant women need to be very well aware if there is any risk in a local area of mosquito borne Zika. If there is such a chance, they should try to do whatever they can to avoid getting bitten. Federal health officials are and will be debating whether to suggest anti-pregnancy measures for areas that experience Zika infection. Latin countries that make access to pregnancy control measures like condoms nearly impossible have been ridiculed for telling women not to get pregnant for 18 months; that’s a measure of how bad things have gotten.
Learning From Ebola
The Ebola epidemic which killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa, and led to the destruction of much of the public health infrastructure and then horrific social and economic results for Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and other states, was originally a balls up. The World Health Organization officially recognized the emergency much too late. American preparedness was put paid to by infections to healthworkers in a hospital in Dallas, supposedly one of the ten special “bioterrorism” treatment centers in the U.S.
But eventually things worked. U. S. troops were sent out, along with many brave international health workers. Standard public health measures succeeded. The virus was contained.
Public health measures still work. In multiple arenas they could make the U.S. a far more healthy place than it has been. But they require money for implementation.
If you want to personally prepare for Zika and other viruses, you can make sure you have screened windows; use insect repellent when outside during mosquito season; practice safe sex. But perhaps one good use of your time may be lobbying your soon to be elected Congressional representatives. They should start spending money on stopping Zika before it arrives here, which includes aiding other countries in their eradication efforts. An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure; in this case, it may be a hundred pounds.