Earlier this month, Miami health officials confirmed that 14 people have contracted the Zika virus from local mosquito populations in the Florida area. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a travel warning within the United States for pregnant women considering the Miami area as their next biggest getaway. In addition, the Pentagon confirmed that at least 33 American service members have contracted Zika virus while overseas. And, right, one of the countries hardest hit by Zika is Brazil, which just finished as host of the Summer Olympics. Zika can be transmitted by the Aedes species of mosquito and also between people during sex, blood transfusions, and from mother to child in pregnancy. So here is a chance for anyone to brush up on their knowledge of Zika virus while the summer is still upon us.
Zika scares the bejeezus out of me, even if I do not plan to have children in the near future. I am worried for the fate of these women and their children, and also for the women who might unknowingly contract the disease and become pregnant. I was fortunate to take a class in college where we investigated the history of Zika as one of our units. It turns out that Zika was first discovered on the African continent in 1947 and was named after the forest in which it was originally identified. I could get into the fascinating and disappointingly nonexistent research and publicity that it garnered before the 21st century, but let’s leave that as a good coffee-table chat about the Western-centric tendencies of medicine.
The cherry on top of this ice-cream-sundae of a disease epidemic is that scientists are seeing negative effects of Zika for children that show no immediate effects at birth. That means that children born to these mothers may not exhibit microcephaly, but will develop problems as they get older in regions of the brain that are still growing. Depending upon a woman’s socioeconomic status and the area of the world in which she resides, seeking additional resources for their children as they develop becomes increasingly expensive and challenging.
Compared to other disease outbreaks around the world, Zika virus has a fairly innocuous impact on the life of the infected. At most, they will experience flu-like symptoms for a week, including rash, fever, and joint pain. Unlike polio or Ebola or HIV, Zika virus will not kill the infected person. Because of this, some of the cases of pregnant women contracting Zika are not discovered until their child is checked for developmental issues, and by then it is too late. Abortion laws around the world are not equal, and in Brazil abortion is illegal with very few exceptions.
I am no expert on this subject, but there is one thing that I feel should be recognized about the potential of Zika virus. What if the next public health crisis in America is that Zika extends its reaches to other regions of the United States and there is a significant increase in children born with microcephaly? Is our healthcare system prepared for that possibility? What kind of infrastructure does America have for assistance to these families, and how would this be navigated on a national scale? How would this change the national opinion on contraception and abortion laws?
Perhaps I sound overly concerned about this, but I’m pretty sure that a year ago I was told that “Zika virus mosquitos won’t be in the U.S.”, and look where we are now. For more information on Zika, visit the CDC website.
Attempting-to-be-informed as F–k