Now That Zika Has Arrived, What Happens Next?

Zika is a buzzword that most people in the United States still aren’t fully familiar with, but the reality is catching up faster than anyone affected by it are ready for.

Zika was first discovered in Uganda in 1947. It was mostly contained to the region until the past couple of years. Since then it has been proliferating in the Caribbean and South America. In 2016, outbreaks have started to occur in the United States and it is spreading at an alarming enough rate that people are taking notice.

In adults, the virus is fairly innocuous. It can cause fever, rashes, joint pain and similar problems on a somewhat mild level that can be quickly recovered from. In infants and expectant mothers, however, there are disastrous consequences.

In babies, Zika virus has been correlated with microcephaly, in which brains have a slow or halted growth period. A specific protein is disrupted and stops neural cell division in the process of brain development. Other issues such as fetal nerve damage, blindness and even death are common results.

An immunity was developed in Africa over time, though it is hoped that we know enough about the virus to curtail it better now. Drugs like Sofosbuvir may be able to stimulate the process of cell division. A dengue fever vaccine may be able to help rid the body Zika, since the two viruses are transmitted by the same breed of mosquitoes. Tests thus far have been promising, but no one has any idea of how many strains of Zika there are and whether an individual can have a recurrence.

Beyond medical strides, there are more basic ways of dealing with the situation. Eliminating mosquito breeding grounds is the first step. We know that only female mosquitoes probe skin and leave saliva. Some new studies are working to alter male mosquito traits so that mosquitoes fail to reach adulthood. An even more extreme idea has been to activate male DNA to the point that all mosquitoes are born male, which would eliminate the species and stop the spread of disease.

On a more immediate level, hopefully by next year’s mosquito season, some options for containing the bugs will be developed. LED lights have already been used to disinfect water and even to aid astronauts in orbit. A seemingly easier task than those, light manufacturers are working on LED-based bug traps with lights that have specific wavelengths to catch Zika-bearing breeds of mosquitoes.

Obviously, with so many people working to eradicate the problem, it’s just a matter of time. In the meantime, protecting expectant mothers and raising awareness is the biggest thing to help protect unborn babies. More information is available through savethechildren.org.

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