Zika Virus Makes Its Way Past U.S. Borders: Who’s At Risk?

The Zika virus is the latest virus to cross continental borders and extend its reach, infecting worldwide populations. Generally, Zika is spread via bites from mosquitoes who serve as carriers for the virus. The most readily apparent symptoms of the virus are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), but the Zika virus is very mild, lasting a week at the most, and hospitalization is rarely required.

However, according to an alert issued by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), pregnant women should be particularly wary of contracting the virus, because studies done in Brazil, where the initial outbreaks occurred, determined that Zika is responsible for causing birth defects in unborn babies.

The Zika Virus Makes Its First Appearance In The United States

A young girl, who has remained unidentified traveled to El Salvador in late November where she contracted the Zika virus. Reports indicate that the girl’s infection did not present itself until she returned to her Los Angeles county home, and that she experienced only mild Zika symptoms. She has already completely recovered.

At this point, no one has contracted the Zika virus while in the United States, but officials report several American citizens have been exposed to the illness abroad and have returned home bearing symptoms of the Zika virus. The World Health Organization warns that there is cause for concern for the United States, advising that it’s only a matter of time before Zika virus outbreaks begin to occur. Mosquitoes responsible for transmitting the virus are not native to the United States; however, they have been found emigrating to California. Specifically, the insects have been identified in 12 of California’s 58 counties.

“The Asian tiger and the yellow fever mosquitoes — Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti, respectively — are about half the size of normal mosquitoes and have black-and-white stripes. Unlike mosquitoes more common to California, which usually come out in the evening, these mosquitoes bite during the daytime,” reports the L.A. Times, regarding the species of mosquitoes responsible for transmitting the virus.

The Zika Virus Creates A Cause For Concern In Pregnant Women

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While the Zika virus isn’t contagious, nor is it deadly, it is causing severe problems for mothers and the fetal development of their unborn children. Since the Zika outbreak, an abnormally high number of babies have been born with microcephaly, which is a birth defect that causes an underdeveloped cranium. Thousands of births have revealed that there has been a noticeable spike in the occurrences of this particular birth defect, ever since the first outbreak of the virus.

“One day, two or three cases arrived, then it increased to four, then to 20,” said Dr. Angela Rocha, a pediatric infectologist, who has been working with families affected by microcephaly. “Now, we don’t know when this is going to stop. It’s a disease that does not have a vaccine yet, the only way to control it is to eliminate the vector.”

Many of the affected families live in areas conducive to mosquito breeding, such as sources of standing water and open sewage systems. The Brazilian health ministry is doing what it can to curb the spread of mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus. The organization has deployed 220,000 troops to treat areas suitable for larvae nests, such as water drums and flower pots. Meanwhile, doctors in many areas are advising pregnant women to wear insect repellent and long sleeves during daylight hours, but many Brazilian doctors have advised women to avoid pregnancies altogether, until the spread of the Zika virus can be controlled.

“The whole world needs to be on high alert now,” Dr. Rocha said. “We still don’t know what other proportions it could take.”

[Featured image by Mario Tama/Getty Images]