When media outlets first began reporting on the Zika virus, not many knew what it was or had even heard of it before. Most of the early information about the disease explained that it is only present in certain regions of the world – mostly tropical–can only be transmitted via mosquito bites, and women who are pregnant were at a much higher risk of contracting the virus.
However, once images of “Zika babies” began circulating around the globe, Zika virus information began to capture everyone’s attention. According to CNN, when a pregnant mother is bitten by a mosquito carrying Zika, the virus attacks her unborn baby’s brain tissue, essentially eating away at it. The disease has been linked to microcephaly, which causes children to be born with undeveloped brains and abnormally small heads for an infant.
“There is no longer any doubt that Zika causes microcephaly,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told The New York Times. He continued, “Never before in history has there been a situation where a bite from a mosquito can result in a devastating malformation.”
In addition to the associated birth defects, what makes the Zika virus so problematic is that it can be spread by something as common as a mosquito bite. As the days get longer and the warmer weather brings people outdoors, many will hardly think twice about something as common as a mosquito bite. Although there have been very few cases of Zika infections reported in the U.S., that hasn’t stopped agencies from proactively monitoring the control of the mosquito population, especially in climates where the insects are much more prevalent.
The Orlando Sentinel, citing data from the CDC, writes that 30 U.S. states have mosquitos that can contribute to the spread of Zika. President Barack Obama has earmarked $1.9 billion to help combat the spread of the disease, although funding approval is still pending by Congress.
“Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s deputy director, told USA Today. According to this article, 346 U.S. Zika cases, all of the patients who contracted the disease had traveled to Zika hot spots, and of that number, 32 were pregnant women.
The spread of Zika has become a serious point of concern in U.S. territories with tropical climates, such as Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands. As the world continues to recover from the deadly effects of the Ebola virus, Zika has presented its own unique set of challenges that will heighten the need for strong public health actions to keep people safe.