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Zika: The Buzz Around Town

Zika: The Buzz Around Town
February 19, 2016 Ali Hanna

What’s that buzz in your ear? Perhaps talk of the Zika virus and it’s increasing proliferation. Living in the tropics, we are well aware mosquitos and the annoyances that come along with them. Many of us, too, are aware of the threat they pose, especially within the past year. The Hawai’i Department of Health has been dealing with reports of Dengue Fever on the Big Island as of late 2015, continuing on in present times. The Zika virus is now earning itself some attention, too, as the first suspected effects of the virus have affected a Hawai’i-born infant.

Aedes mosquito sucking blood on skin.

Aedes mosquito sucking blood on skin.

The Zika virus is a flavivirus that is primarily transmitted by Aedes mosquitos, which buzz about during the day. It was first discovered in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), patients affected by the virus usually suffer from a “pink non-itchy rash” that may cover all parts of the body, including palms and soles of the feet.

Since its discovery, the Zika virus has been transmitted outside of Africa, now inhabiting many regions of the globe. In more modern times, Zika has had several noteworthy outbreaks, including the Island of Yap in Micronesia (2007) and in French Polynesia (2013/2014), according to WHO’s timeline of Zika’s discovery and it’s travels since. At first, it was thought that the Zika virus was solely transmitted by the bite of a mosquito, but in 2013 a Zika patient in Tahiti was reported to have bloody semen, which further led to the discovery that the virus can be sexually transmitted.

Last year, the Zika virus became especially relevant in Brazil, where WHO received reports of many cases of Zika-induced rashes, correlating also with a substantial rise in a neurodevelopmental disorder known as microcephaly. Microcephaly is when the brain doesn’t fully develop, resulting in an abnormally small head size in the infant. In November 2015, researchers in Brazil detected the Zika virus in the amniotic fluid of two pregnant women, whose fetuses had also been diagnosed with microcephaly as well.

Just this month, reports of sexually transmitted Zika came about in Texas, where one patient, recently returning from a trip to Venezuela, passed it on to their partner. One month prior, in January, the Hawai’i Department of Health reported the birth of a child affected by microcephaly. The Zika virus was found in the newborn, whose mother had been residing in Brazil early in her pregnancy. This instance provided more evidence of a correlation between Zika and microcephaly, as well as Guillian-Barre syndrome (GBS), another neurological malady.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been no patients directly bitten by a Zika-ridden mosquito in any of the 50 states. Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, however, have had what the CDC calls “locally-acquired cases.” Nonetheless, there have been 84 cases reported in the states due to travel, 4 of those being in Hawai’i.

Unlike it’s carrier, the Zika virus is clearly something we can’t just swat away. Because the Aedes mosquito flies primarily in daylight hours, it is suggested by WHO that people in affected areas, especially small children, nap with mosquito-nets around them. People traveling in Zika-affected countries are advised to be wary of this outbreak, especially women who are pregnant or partners that may be trying to conceive. To avoid being bitten, repellents and long clothing is suggested.

For more information, check out the World Health Organization, the Hawaii Department of Health (specifically the Disease Outbreak Control Division), as well as the CDC’s site.

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