The Zika pandemic is still ongoing across the world. In the United States of America, it had been first identified on tourists who went to and came from affected countries, but eventually, the first locally transmitted cases appeared in Florida, in the Miami-Dade area.
This particular incident activated a red alert across the country, and many other states have started to take preventive measures against Zika.
These measures include keeping the local mosquito populations under control, creating educational campaigns to inform the general population of the risks of the disease, and door-to-door visits from experts across neighborhoods to teach about preventive actions citizens could take at home.
There have been criticisms in how the situation has been handled, in particular with the United States Congress being unable to agree on the desperately needed funding for Zika research and prevention.
In the Congress, President Obama had requested $1.8 billion, and the alternative bill for $1.1 billion got rejected by Democrats because additional provisions added by Republicans regarding Planned Parenthood and the Confederate flag. The Congress then started their summer break, to the dismay of health experts across the country.
This is serious, as the Zika virus is linked to microcephaly, a birth defect where babies are born with smaller heads than normal, and by extension, underdeveloped brains.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the estimated cost for lifetime care of an afflicted child goes up to $10 million. The virus has also been linked to at least two autoimmune disorders, Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis and Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Some researchers also have reported some patients developing encephalitis and myelitis (nerve disorders), although these cases are comparatively rare.
Why can the virus quickly become an epidemic?
CDC says that up to eighty percent of people infected are asymptomatic, and the remaining twenty percent tend to have mild symptoms that might go unreported. This means anyone could have the disease and not know it, and if they get bitten by mosquitoes, they will transmit the virus from the asymptomatic infected host to potentially uninfected victims.
The disease is transmitted by two mosquitoes, the Aedes Aegypti and Aedes Albopictus, both of which are found in the United States, and feed in the daylight. Besides Zika, they can transmit other tropical diseases such as dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya.
However, the public’s reaction goes from the paranoid worry to general ambivalence. In particular, the fact that Zika has appeared in the touristy state of Florida, with the first cases in Wynwood and South Beach hasn’t deterred tourists from visiting. Many individuals interviewed the same day the governor announced a “new zone” with locally transmitted cases by the Washington Post, generally expressed only mild concern about the situation.
CDC also issued a warning to pregnant women against traveling to Miami Beach on Friday afternoon and encouraged the use of repellent against mosquitoes. However, federal health officials expanded the warning to anywhere in the Miami-Dade County.
The warning took it’s toll on Wynwood, as stated by the head of the Wynwood Business District, who estimated that there had been a fifty to sixty percent decrease in business in the first two weeks since the first cases in the area were confirmed on July 29. Things have slowly but steadily returned to normal, however. This is good news for Miami Beach, and the state in general, as it is an area heavily dependent on tourism.
Challenges in preventing the virus spread
While the Miami Beach area is somewhat unfriendly to mosquitoes, since it features salt water and strong breezes, there are plenty of little hideouts for mosquitoes across the densely populated area, such as many old buildings. And while Wynwood managed to reduce its A. Aegypti population with aerial spraying, the area of Miami Beach isn’t suited for that, according to county officials.
The area’s plentiful high-rise buildings, along with their white beaches and ocean, do not allow aerial spraying. Getting tourists to follow the Zika prevention guidelines is also a challenge, as people do not go vacationing to Miami Beach to be told to use long sleeves and pants. There’s also concerns about the virus spreading through sexual transmission.
Pregnant women are the most vulnerable
The people most worried tend to be expectant mothers or those planning to become pregnant shortly.
Michal Karen David, a 32-year-old New Yorker, heard the news of the new transmission zone just when it was announced, on Friday morning. She said that while she and her partner thought of canceling the trip “we have to live our lives.” David also stated that she would continue on her plan of trying to get pregnant next month.
Hopefully, Zika won’t spread too far across the United States, as it could have a devastating, overwhelming impact on the health care system.
Sources: The New York Times