Puerto Rico Epidemic: Zika Virus Ravages Island, Officials Fear Worst Is Still Ahead

Puerto Rico epidemic

Puerto Rico is going through a Zika virus epidemic and officials fear the worst is still ahead. According to information from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Disease Prevention), one-quarter of the island’s 3.5 million people will probably get the Zika virus within a year and eventually 80 percent or more may be infected, The Seattle Times reports.

“I’m very concerned,” Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC director, was quoted as saying in an interview. “There could be thousands of infections of pregnant women this year.”

While CDC officials say a Zika outbreak in the continental U.S.is highly unlikely, Puerto Rico provides the ideal environment for mosquitoes carrying the virus. People there often do not use screens on their windows, and the insecticides used on the island are ineffective against the mosquito that transmits the disease.

According to a report from U.S. News & World Report, citing data from the CDC, there have been more than 200 confirmed cases of Zika-virus infection, as many as 35 of which are pregnant women.

The report quoted experts who explained that if Zika entered the blood supply, giving blood to pregnant women or their fetuses – who sometimes require transfusions – could raise the babies’ risk of lifelong impairment from microcephaly, a catastrophic birth defect, or other disabilities. It could also make the Zika epidemic spread more quickly by causing infections in a much more efficient way.

It is often hard to identify those infected with the virus because most people infected with Zika won’t even know they have the disease since they won’t have symptoms. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes), the CDC writes. Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.

During a visit to the U.S. territory to help boost the fight against the spread of the virus, Dr. Tom Frieden said officials from the CDC are helping Puerto Rico to find better insecticides capable of killing the mosquito that transmits Zika and other diseases. He said officials are currently testing nine different insecticides for that purpose.

Frieden urged the local government to create a robust system of monitoring and controlling of mosquitoes that can be used long term. Frieden said the island needs new insecticides that are efficient in killing the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries Zika and other diseases.

It is likely that the Zika virus will spread very quickly, so timing is essential, Frieden explained, noting that the virus is different from the dengue and chikungunya epidemics that have gripped Puerto Rico.

“It can bring many problems to families, to the community, to the island for many years to come,” he said.

Since the first case of the virus was recorded in 2015, it has steadily spread to 36 countries in the Americas and the Caribbean including Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, as well as Guyana and Suriname.

Officials have warned scores of island towns that they must clean up the detritus in which standing water collects, incubating new mosquitoes. And the CDC is preparing to spend tens of millions of dollars to blunt the spread of the virus. However, officials are not optimistic they will succeed.

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