BY DR. JEFFREY HUMBARGER – This is the first in an ongoing series of posts by myself regarding current medical topics. Certainly you’ve heard about Zika Virus. The CDC has issued travel warnings and the Governor Rick Scott has proclaimed that certain Florida Counties are in a state of Medical Emergency.
So what’s the big deal? What is Zika Virus, and why haven’t we heard about it before? Are we at risk here? What are the symptoms of Zika Virus infection? How is it prevented?
Zika is a big deal because in Brazil, over 1.5 million people have had this virus and about 4000 babies have been born with microcephaly (small heads) because their mothers were infected with the virus.
Zika is an Arbovirus, related to Dengue and before recently was confined to Africa and South America. Recently though, the virus has spread to the Caribbean and now there have been cases identified in the US. The virus is spread by the Aedes mosquito, which bites at dawn and dusk. This same mosquito is also responsible for Dengue fever and West Nile virus spread.
We are at risk on Gasparilla Island and the rest of Florida both from person to person spread and by being bitten by mosquitos carrying Zika Virus. In fact, because of the high mobility of residents and visitors of Boca Grande, it is not surprising that one of the first cases in Florida was found here. A person came to the Clinic with a rash and joint pain, and because the physician asked about recent travel, the person was diagnosed with Zika infection by a special blood test. The best test is called a PCR, (polymerase chain reaction) that can differentiate Zika from Dengue and other similar illnesses.
Typical symptoms include a measles-like rash, especially on the trunk, conjunctivitis, fever, malaise and joint pain. Only 20% of people infected have any symptoms.
It has recently been discovered that Zika infection can be spread by sex and blood transfusions. Blood banks are declining donors who have had recent travel to Zika endemic areas, like South America and the Caribbean; and the CDC has recommended using “safe sex” i.e. condoms with a partner who has a possibility of a Zika infection, especially if one is or may soon become pregnant.
Since there is currently no vaccine to prevent Zika infection, nor an anti-viral treatment for established cases. The only prevention is to avoid travel to areas where Zeka virus is common, and to prevent mosquito bites. The CDC recommends using mosquito repellents, mosquito nets and soaking clothing in permethrin and staying inside in air conditioning to avoid bites. This is the same recommendation given to prevent malaria and yellow fever. A lnk to the CDC Zika website is here: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/ The good news is that pharmaceutical companies are already working on vaccines and treatment, and that modern mosquito control techniques can help us prevent being bitten.
If you think you may have contracted Zika virus, or have questions regarding this disease, please contact the Clinic at 964-2276 for an appointment.
Jeffrey Humbarger, M.D.