The mosquito-borne Zika virus has been much in the news lately, and for good reason. It originated in the Zika forest in the African nation of Uganda, from which the virus takes its name and where it was first discovered in 1947. In 2013 it left Africa on an unknown carrier and spread, first to the South Pacific islands, and then arrived in South and Central America, Mexico, and the islands of the Caribbean in 2015.
Now it has shown up in the United States, brought back by travelers to countries where the virus has reached pandemic levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to date there have been 503 confirmed cases of Zika infection in the U.S. More cases are inevitable, as is the eventual spread of the disease to the rest of the nation.
Zika is related to the yellow fever, dengue, and West Nile viruses, and like those it is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes, although it can also be transmitted sexually through the male, and through blood transfusions. In most people it only causes a slight fever, or no symptoms at all, and no other long term effects. After being infected once, a person is safe from future infections.
The real danger of Zika is to pregnant women. The virus is transmitted to the fetus, and can cause a devastating birth defect known as microcephaly, where a baby is born with a head and brain much smaller than normal, leading to intellectual and developmental disabilities, vision and and hearing loss, and seizures. It can also cause other types of birth defects.
There are currently no vaccines against the Zika virus, though scientists hope to have one available soon.
Mosquito transmission is the primary way of contracting the virus. To reduce your risk, you should take active steps near your home to reduce mosquito populations, and take steps to keep from being bitten. Preventive actions to take include:
With a little common sense prevention, mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus can be avoided.
From now until mid-October, Ecology is offering a mosquito-control service to New York homeowners. Trained pest technicians will visit your home once per month. For more information, call 718-972-1040.