With COVID-19 on all the news, it is easy to forget about other health issues that we should continue to address. Take the Zika virus, for example.
Zika is a virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes, although it can also be spread through sexual activity. It was first found in July 2016 in the United States and over a year earlier in Latin and South America. However, it is not a new virus. It was first diagnosed in humans in Africa in 1952.
Zika was registered
At that time, there was a lot of news in the United States warning people about Zika, especially pregnant women, as they are at the highest risk of complications related to the virus. However, a new study published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases shows that cases of the virus were seriously underreported and many more people in the US were infected than originally thought.
"Less than 15% of cases have actually been reported, and it shows that our surveillance systems are only catching a small percentage of actual infections," senior author Sean Moore, PhD, said in a press release. Dr. Moore is a research fellow at the Institute of Life Sciences at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
Most of the time, Zika is relatively harmless. According to the Mayo Clinic, most people who contract the infection are asymptomatic. Those who show symptoms usually experience a combination of:
- Light fever
- Joint pain
- a headache
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
However, the greatest concern is with pregnant women. The virus can cause miscarriages. It can also cause a birth defect called microcephaly. This is a condition in which a baby is born with a head that is much smaller than it should be. This usually leads to damage to the brain.
The lack of adequate virus tracking makes it difficult for public health officials to pinpoint where actual outbreaks of infection are and to make plans to alert the population. Knowing the number of cases will help officials track whether a community has developed herd immunity. This means that enough people in the community are protected from infection.
"Our research suggests that there is a need for a better understanding of how much transmission is occurring within a community," said Dr. Moors. “The risk of congenital birth defects in pregnant women infected with Zika virus required a separate monitoring system that tested both the mother and baby to get a more accurate indicator of the underlying transmission. Without extensive testing and a comprehensive system like this, we can miss how large the outbreak is in the general population. "
To help prevent the spread of Zika, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following advice:
- Stay away from areas with high Zika cases, especially if you are pregnant.
- If possible, wear long sleeves and pants to avoid mosquito bites.
- Use insect repellants that are listed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Toddlers and babies should be protected with clothing and blankets over strollers and carriages.
- Use condoms during sexual activity if you or your partner has been exposed to the virus.
Take that away
If you think you may be infected with Zika, ask your doctor about tests. A blood or urine test can be diagnosed at Zika. When making travel plans, check to see if Zika is active in the area and if so, consider going elsewhere, especially if you are pregnant.