ZIKA VIRUS | Viral Armageddon? OR New Frontier for Medical-Science Breakthroughs?



With Zika at the Doorstep, U.S. Health Officials Brace for Battle

The mosquito-borne virus, which causes birth defects, expected to hit Gulf Coast states like Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

By Dennis Thompson Jr., HealthDay News

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Zika is the first mosquito-borne illness known to cause birth defects.
Zika is the first mosquito-borne illness known to cause birth defects.
Shutterstock

With mosquito season arriving in the Gulf Coast states, U.S. public health officials have begun deploying a three-pronged battle plan to combat Zika virus, which has caused thousands of birth defects in Latin America in the last year.

Zika is the first mosquito-borne illness known to cause birth defects, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Tom Frieden has reported. While the virus typically prompts either mild or no symptoms in nearly all adults, it can inflict terrible brain-related birth defects if a pregnant woman becomes infected.

Brazil has been the epicenter of the Zika outbreak with nearly 5,000 confirmed or suspected cases of microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and brains.

The virus is expected to become active in at least some portions of the continental United States this spring and summer, especially Gulf Coast states, as it passes from person to person via mosquito bites, federal health officials say.

Health experts are hopeful that Zika will not spread as widely in the United States as it has in Central and South America. The main reasons: people aren't as exposed to mosquitoes in the United States, and much of the nation's climate isn't as tropical as Latin America's.

"The fact that we have more access to screens and air conditioning by itself is probably very highly protective," Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said during a recent Zika seminar.

RELATED: How Worried Should I Be About the Zika Virus?

To limit any potential spread of Zika, health officials on the federal, state and local level are deploying a three-pronged strategy: improving mosquito control; expanding their ability to test for Zika; and urging the public to protect themselves against mosquitoes.

However, officials acknowledge it won't be possible to test every woman who's pregnant or might become pregnant to see if she has been infected with the virus. That's why self-protection and mosquito control are critical components of the Zika strategy, officials say.

Each state has a good idea which of its regions is more likely to have the Aedes aegyptimosquito, the main carrier of Zika, said Dr. Frank Welch. He is medical director of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals' Center for Community Preparedness.

For example, Louisiana officials are first directing their attention toward the Lake Pontchartrain area near New Orleans, along with some other smaller pockets around the state, Welch said.

"By really focusing on the neighborhoods where we know this mosquito is active, we really hope to head off local transmission," he said.

Florida has included 17 counties in a Declaration of Public Health Emergency regarding Zika, according to the Florida Department of Health. The counties are scattered throughout the state.

"We're working to make sure that all Florida residents and visitors are informed about Zika virus and mosquito-borne illness in general," said Mara Gambineri, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health.

In Texas, public health officials are keeping an eye on the Lower Rio Grande Valley, the Gulf Coast, and particularly the Texas/Mexico border, Hellerstedt said.

Zika has become active in some parts of Mexico, and there is concern people could carry the virus across the border into the United States.

"All along that border every day, hundreds of thousands of people legally cross over from one side to the other and return," Hellerstedt said. "That is their way of life. That's the basic socioeconomic reality of those communities."

In a similar vein, Louisiana health officials are keeping a keen eye on cruise ships returning from Central and South America, Welch said.






Video: Zika threat at Florida's doorstep

With Zika at the Doorstep, U.S. Health Officials Brace for Battle
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Date: 10.12.2018, 11:51 / Views: 53134