Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, has emerged in Brazil. The World Health Organization is warning that the virus is spreading quickly through the Americas. There is no treatment, vaccine, or rapid diagnostic test for the virus. There has been a surge in babies born with microcephaly, a serious condition with abnormally small heads and brain damage. The CDC has issued travel warnings for pregnant women.
Health officials believe that Zika will spread within the United States, but any exposure will be limited. Due to mosquito control, window screens, and air conditioning, the risk is in the U.S. is smaller and less than Ebola, and infected people won’t become very ill.
The CDC has confirmed 31 cases of the virus in the continental U.S., all in people who had traveled to affected countries. Another 20 cases were confirmed in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. State governments in the southern states are paying attention, as three cases have been confirmed in Florida – all people who had contracted it abroad.
Pregnant women need to take this seriously and avoid travelling to the affected countries. Zika isn’t detectable until the 28th week of pregnancy. El Salvador’s government is warning women to avoid getting pregnant for two years. Governments cannot discourage pregnancy without adequately funding optional family planning services, warn some organizations.
Fear is normal, and public health policy must address it, taking steps to educate the public and prepare to handle this Zika without ensuing panic.
Kenen, Joanne and Haberkorn, Jennifer. “Is Zika the new Ebola?” Politico, 28 Jan 2016. Web. 31 Jan 2016.