Zika Outbreak: Mindfulness and Caution called for
An obscure virus, known for years and long considered a minor affliction, suddenly spreads and causes hitherto unseen damage to humans. This is not unusual. In fact, it is an eternal story, repeated time and again by a resilient and adaptable Nature. The spread and impact of Zika are but the latest chapter in this never-ending story; and a textbook example of the response of epidemiology and science.
The latest updates from CDC reflect the deepening understanding of this outbreak fostered by intense research in response to a burgeoning health crisis. To put it in plain language, the closer you look the more you discover.
This discovery includes reexamination of the range of the Zika carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito. News reports explain in terms of numbers of states – currently 30. That belies – to a certain degree – the extent of A. aegypti’s range, which extends from north of San Francisco to and across the entire South, and up the eastern seaboard well into Connecticut. This includes many of the nation’s largest cities.
As warm weather returns, so shall mosquitoes. This calls for preventive measures.
• How often do we see small pools of standing water?
• Do we think to eliminate these breeding sites for mosquitoes?
• Short sleeves and pants expose skin to these daytime biting insects.
• Do we routinely use insect repellent?
Screens and air conditioning reduce exposure to mosquitoes. Travel to tropical climates where Zika has been detected should include increase vigilance, enhanced preventive measures, and post-travel awareness, by everyone, not just women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. Discovery that Zika is also transmitted via sexual contact is yet another argument for routinely practicing safer sex.
It is likely that Zika will continue to spread, even as mosquito control efforts increase and pursuit of a vaccine accelerates. Until a medical countermeasure is available, mindfulness and caution will continue to offer the best protection against the still emerging consequences of this emerging outbreak.