Two mosquito-borne diseases, spread by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, are fast becoming a growing concern to Texans. Experts warn that the incurable Zika virus could arrive in the Lone Star State as early as this summer, and the first locally-acquired case of chikungunya was confirmed in Cameron County, Texas, in January 2016. Recent heavy rains, warm weather and standing water are creating conditions for mosquitoes to breed.
“Just months ago, people who had become infected with Zika had traveled outside the United States to countries in South and Central America and Mexico, but now, the virus is making its way here,” said Dr. Gregory Buck, Associate Professor of Biology and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “I’d have to agree with the experts out there and say that the Zika virus has a very high probability of coming to Texas.”
The virus arrived in Latin America just last year, and as recently as 2013, Zika had never been recorded in the Western Hemisphere. Currently, 150 health specialists have asked for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to be postponed or moved due to concern over global health that the disease will spread.
While most Zika cases cause mild illness or no symptoms at all in 80 percent of persons, the virus can trigger serious complications in older persons such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, as well as developing fetuses. The Zika virus has been linked to serious birth defects and deaths in newborns in Brazil, affecting women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. During pregnancy, the Zika virus infection can cause microcephaly, a congenital condition associated with a small head and incomplete brain development. The virus may also be spread through sexual transmission.
The most common Zika virus symptoms, which can start between two and seven days after exposure, include fever, rash, joint pain and pink eye. Some patients report muscle pain, headache and vomiting. The symptoms of Zika are also similar to that of chikungunya and West Nile viruses. Buck, who teaches classes in microbiology, virology, immunology and bacteriology, says those who are at higher risk include children, the elderly and individuals with weakened immune systems.
For those who must be outdoors, look for repellents with either 25 percent DEET or 20 percent Picardin. Natural ingredients have shown to be less effective.
“The best way to protect yourself from being bitten by mosquitoes is to avoid being outdoors at peak mosquito times, at dusk and dawn, and wear clothing with long sleeves and pants,” Buck said. “It’s also important to empty any standing water from tires and other containers in your yard where mosquitoes can breed.”
For more information on Zika, click http://vitalrecord.tamhsc.edu/zika360/.