Is the Zika virus in Pennsylvania yet? You’ll be surprised to know the answer is yes. Learn more about the Zika virus, who is at risk, and preventative measures you can take to protect yourself and your family this summer.
What is the Zika Virus?
Zika is actually an old virus, first discovered in 1947, in monkeys living in the Zika forest of Uganda. Prior to 2007, there were only 14 documented Zika cases. Zika has since spread to more than 50 countries — mostly concentrated in Central and South America and the Caribbean — and it’s expected to go much further. This recent spread has health experts seriously worried. The World Health Organization estimates that More than 4 million people could be infected with Zika by the end of the year.
How do you get Zika?
- Zika is spread to people through mosquito bites.
- Mainly the disease is carried by the the Aedes aegypti species. These are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses.
- There’s some experimental evidence suggesting the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) can transmit the virus, too. This is a worry because the Aedes albopictus has a much larger range in the United States, reaching at least 32 states.
- Mosquitoes become infected by feeding on a person already infected with the virus. The infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people.
- A mother already infected with Zika virus near the time of delivery can pass on the virus to her newborn around the time of birth
- Spread of the virus through blood transfusion and sexual contact have also been reported.
Symptoms of the Zika Virus
The Zika virus is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week.
About 80% (4 in 5) people who get infected with Zika don’t even realize it — and therefore never seek medical attention! These carriers can transmit the disease if they are bitten by a mosquito that then bites someone else.
The other 20% of Zika patients show relatively minor symptoms such as a low-grade fever, sore body, headache, red eyes, and body rash. More rarely, abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea can be symptoms of Zika.
These symptoms usually appear 2-12 days after a bite, and go away within a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.
So why is everyone so worried?
Well, that’s because in rare cases, Zika can cause really serious problems. Some people infected with the virus were later diagnosed with Guillain-Barré, a rare and sometimes deadly neurological condition leading to muscle weakness and even paralysis that can last weeks, months, or even years.
There’s also evidence that Zika is linked to a terrible birth defect called microcephaly, which is characterized by a shrunken head and incomplete brain development. Since Zika arrived in Brazil in 2015, more than 4,000 cases of microcephaly have been reported. This is 20 times more cases than previous years!
Pregnant Women and Zika Virus
Pregnant women are at the highest risk when it comes to the Zika Virus. Zika can spread from a pregnant mother to her baby, and that infection during pregnancy may be linked to birth defects, such as a condition called microcephaly (when a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared with babies of the same sex and age). To date, there are no reports of infants getting Zika virus through breastfeeding.
Zika Virus Treatment
A recent study estimated the virus could affect areas where 60% of the U.S. population lives. Because of this President Obama has called for the rapid development of tests, vaccines and treatment to fight Zika.
If you do get symptoms from Zika, avoid mosquito bites during the first week of illness. This spreads the disease and can infect others. Get plenty of rest and drink fluids to prevent dehydration. Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen. Aspirin and NSAIDs should be avoided until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of bleeding. You can take acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain.
Is the Zika Virus in Pennsylvania?
Yes, there have been 4 confirmed cases of Zika in Pennsylvania (as of 2/22/16).
However, no Zika-infected mosquitoes have been reported (yet) in the continental U.S., although this could change. The above map shows the probability of occurrence of the Zika Virus in different areas of the United States. The CDC also posts regularly updated maps on their website.
Those with confirmed cases of the Zika in Pennsylvania have likely visited Central America, South America, the Caribbean, or other places where the virus has reached epidemic proportions since May.
Dr. Karen Murphy, the Secretary of Health for the state Department of Health, commented:
“While we are concerned about the health of these individuals and any Pennsylvanian who may be exposed to Zika virus, we want to emphasize that these cases pose no threat to the public. We will continue to provide updated Zika guidance to health care professionals across the commonwealth to ensure they are aware of the symptoms associated with the disease and the protocols that should be followed to ensure testing of potentially infected individuals, if needed.”
Take Steps Now to Prevent Getting Zika
The obvious and best way to prevent getting Zika is to avoid getting mosquito bites. These mosquitoes typically lay eggs in and near standing water in things like buckets, bowls, animal dishes, flower pots and vases.
These mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters, prefer to bite people, and live indoors and outdoors near people.
Eliminate Standing Water
Remove debris or items stored outside that can hold water. If you can’t remove them, adjust them so that they no longer hold water. Old tires are also a popular breeding place
Keep your grass mowed and bushes trimmedAny overgrown areas of your yard — grass, bushes, etc. These areas, when left unkempt, can be a place for the mosquitoes to breed.
Wear protective clothingMake sure you are wearing proper clothing if they are going to be in an environment with mosquitoes — long sleeve shirts, long pants, hats, etc.
Keep your house coolAnyone need a reason to invest in air conditioning? You can boast that you spent that money preventing your family from getting the Zika virus. Obviously window air conditioners are a great cost-effective way to go. You can also check out ductless air conditioning units. I have one and it’s so great! Central air is another option, although it can be quite pricey.
Mosquito nettingYou can protect your little ones by covering cribs, strollers, and baby carriers with mosquito netting.
Use insect repellentsThere are a lot of insect repellents out there – everything from DEET to natural remedies. These are great ways to keep your family safe.
Buy Zika Virus Mosquito Repellents
- Spray with Deet
- Deet Free Citronella Mosquito Insect Repellent Bracelet (for Kids, Toddler & Adults)
- Insect Repellent Mosquito Net
- Mosquito Repellent Plants (Citronella Geranium)
- Electronic Insect Killer (Bug Zapper)
- Pure Lavender Essential Oil (natural insect repellent)