Weekly Wellness: Zika

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COLUMBIA — As if we didn't have enough of a reason to dislike mosquitoes, now we have yet another one: Zika.

According to the World Health Organization, as many as 4 million people could be infected with the Zika virus by the end of 2016.

The Zika virus is transmitted by mosquito bites, to people predominantly in Central and South America. The virus itself is most typically like the flu.

It doesn't seem terribly serious, yet it is serious, especially to pregnant women. Microcephaly, which is a birth defect that could causes a baby’s head to stop growing after birth, may be associated with the virus.

While the rest of the world is focusing on Zika, MU is as well.

Dr. Alexander Franz, PhD, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Daniel Jackson, MD, a maternal and fetal medicine specialist at MU Health Care and a professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at the MU School of Medicine are both researching strategies to tackle the virus.

Franz’s research is focused on genetically manipulating mosquitoes so they no longer support transmission of mosquito-borne viruses to humans.

Jackson is concerned with the potential connection of the Zika virus to microcephaly, a permanent birth defect that can cause babies to have lifelong problems hearing, seeing, learning and developing.

The university has also put out this short, yet incredibly informative video.

On their website, the CDC has information about the prevention of Zika that includes the following information:

When in areas with Zika and other diseases spread by mosquitoes, take the following steps:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning and window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Take steps to control mosquitoes inside and outside your home.
  • Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol. Choosing an EPA-registered repellent ensures the EPA has evaluated the product for effectiveness. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breast-feeding women.
  • Always follow the product label instructions.
  • Reapply insect repellent as directed.
  • Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.
  • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.
  • Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old.
  • Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children younger than 3 years old.
  • Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs.
  • Cover your crib, stroller and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
  • Do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth and cut or irritated skin.
  • Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items.

Per the CDC, there are 756 reported Zika virus cases in the U.S. are all associated with travel. Of these reported cases, there are three in Missouri.

Countries and areas with active Zika virus:

  • Aruba
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Bolivia
  • Bonaire
  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • Commonwealth of
  • Puerto Rico, US territory
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • Curacao
  • Dominica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • French Guiana
  • Grenada
  • Guadeloupe
  • Guatemala
  • Guyana
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Jamaica
  • Martinique
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Saint Barthélemy
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Martin
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Sint Maarten
  • Suriname
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • S. Virgin Islands
  • Venezuela
  • American Samoa
  • Fiji
  • Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia
  • Marshall Islands
  • New Caledonia
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Samoa
  • Tonga
  • Cape Verde

Travelers returning to the United States from an area with Zika should take steps to prevent mosquito bites for three weeks, so they do not spread Zika to mosquitoes that could spread the virus to other people.

The take-away is this: just like with seasonal allergies, be diligent about your insect repellent.

If you have traveled to an area that is affected by Zika, contact your physician if you have any questions about your health or the health of your loved ones.