Zika Virus Outbreak Sees Nearly 72,000 Cases In One Country: Is The U.S. Next?

The Zika Virus has become a national health problem in Colombia, where the South American nation has seen a nearly 72,000 cases of the mosquito-borne disease since October, according to government health officials. The contagious disease is of primary concern to pregnant women, since it can potentially cause severe birth defects and microcephaly (having an abnormally small head) and has been documented in almost 13,000 Colombian women who are pregnant. Thus far, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has reported that the cases occurring within the United States are made up only of individuals who have contracted the Zika Virus through travel to foreign nations or through having sex with someone infected in another country. So how susceptible is the United States to a Zika Virus outbreak?

Medical Xpress reported April 24 that Colombian health officials listed 3,292 laboratory confirmed Zika Virus cases and 68,660 suspected cases since October. In that same six month period, 1,703 of those cases have been confirmed to be among pregnant women, with an additional 11,099 cases have been noted by health officials.

As of April 20, according to the CDC’s Arboviral Disease Branch, the United States has so far documented 388 Zika Virus cases since the beginning of the year. Of those, 33 have been among pregnant women. U. S. territories have been harder hit, with 503 cases having been reported (48 of whom were pregnant women). These, however, unlike those within the continental U. S., have been locally contracted vector-borne cases. Put another way, most of the individuals acquired the virus via mosquitos in-country (the others having received the virus through sexual transmission with those already infected).

Given the number of Zika Virus cases already detected in the U. S., a major outbreak occurring has become of primary concern. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the U. S. could see dozens or scores of individuals affected, Reuters reported (via Huffington Post) earlier this week. As for the Zika Virus to become a locally contracted ailment, the director did not see such an event occurring, except in perhaps a few isolated cases.

Said Dr. Fauci:

“It would not be surprising at all – if not likely – that we’re going to see a bit of that [a large number of people falling ill]. We’re talking about scores of cases, dozens of cases, at most.”

The Zika Virus is transmitted primarily through the Aedes aegypti and the Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. The former species of mosquito is prevalent in 30 American states. The likelihood of mosquitoes becoming infected in the U. S., then spreading the disease among the populace, is as yet unlikely.

The virus has become a grave health risk in South America, where outbreaks have reached unprecedented numbers after the first cases were detected in Brazil just a year ago. The disease, which has not only been linked to microcephaly in babies and severe birth defects but also paralyzing Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults, was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization in February.

According to a Reuters factbox posted in early April, those infected with the Zika Virus may show symptoms that include a mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain and fatigue lasting two to seven days. Still, it should be noted that as many as 80 percent of people infected with the contagious virus never develop symptoms at all. Unfortunately, the symptoms are similar to those of dengue or chikungunya, which can cause for worry, especially since those particular diseases are transmitted by the same type of mosquito.

Medical Xpress reported April 24 that approximately 600 disease experts from 43 nations are to gather in Paris on Monday, April 25, to peruse and discuss data emerging concerning the Zika Virus.

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