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Zika Virus Not In U.S. But Will Probably Spread Here

Photo via Flickr// Scott Kidder


The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency. Closer to home, officials are keeping their eyes open but there’s not much to see. Yet. 

The last time the WHO issued a similar declaration was about the Ebola Virus in 2014. The Zika virus is nowhere near as dangerous as Ebola, but it is causing concern around the world, especially among women who are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant. "As far as I know right now, watching the CDC, there haven't been any 'home transmitted' cases of the Zika virus." That’s Dr John Lanza, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County. He says the only cases in the US so far are from people who traveled to South and Central America and the Caribbean and were bitten by an infected mosquito down there. "I think there are maybe five cases in the state of Florida (and) none yet in our area as far as I know."

The Zika Virus is the latest mosquito borne illness to make its way into the US. The past couple of decades have seen infections like West Nile, Chikungunya and Dengue come into the country the same way. Dr. Lanza says it’s just a matter of time before we see some cases of Zika virus in the area. "Eventually we will see some 'home transmitted' cases." He thinks the mosquitos that carry the disease will make their way into our area soon. "The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the one that typically carries this disease (and) we have Aedes aegypti in our area (and throughout) the southeast. So, eventually it's gonna happen."

Dr. Lanza says the virus was first discovered in Africa in the 1940s, and it has very mild or no outward symptoms. Recently scientists have seen a connection with the Zika virus in pregnant women and a condition called microcephaly. This is when a child is born with a small head and brain. He says this is the first one of these mosquito borne diseases that would, in his words, "devastate a baby". There is no treatment for microcephaly and it causes lifelong cognitive and intelligence problems with the child.

There is no vaccine for the virus, so the best way to protect yourself is to practice good mosquito control, including draining any containers of standing water on your property, wearing long sleeves and pants especially at dawn or twilight and using insect repellant with DEET.  

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.