I am concerned about the potential risks of Zika Virus to people locally. Below are some links to literature to aid in illustrating my concerns. I included some potential actions that can be taken to mitigate the potential spread of Zika.
Some Reading Material:
- August 4th – first case of Zika in our county (travel related)
- August 17th – Second Hamilton County case (also travel related)
Health Departments currently advise that the best way to prevent the spread of Zika Virus is by preventing mosquito bites. Zika Virus is also a sexually transmitted disease. Initially it was thought to only cause mild viral symptoms in some adults. The primary major concern was the virus’ effect on fetuses. The major concern for fetal infections is that it can cause malformed joints and microcephaly. More recently there is growing concern for adults and children.
- Here is a journal article from Nature detailing a link discovered between adult Zika infection and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
- Another article was published in the journal Cell Stem Cell detailing a discovery that the virus can infect stem cells in adult mice brains (adult humans have these same cells in their brains). The virus caused cognitive symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s and depression in the mice.
- If these articles are a bit on the heavy side there are a couple news articles (Huffington Post, Miami New Times, Nature World News, Bloomberg) that have trickled out on the topic. Alternatively the latest can be found with a simple Google search.
Zika is scary to me
As an adult this is a scary risk to see in our local community. However, as a parent it is even more frightening.
I’m not an epidemiologist however I have studied environmental science fairly extensively and part of that study involved fate and transport and advanced ecology.
Public Education Campaign
To me it seems that the most logical approach is to treat patients as they occur. While rolling out an extensive community awareness program to inform people about the potential risks to adults.
This public information effort needs to include at a minimum:
- Zika Virus can be passed on through sexual contact. People have been infected through unprotected sexual contact with partners who has the illness as recently as 188 days earlier. Unfortunately, 80% of people infected show no symptoms. This means that a sexual partner who was unaware of an infection up to six months earlier could pass the disease on.
- Mother to fetus transmission.
- Mosquito bites (major vector).
At risk communities :
- We need to prioritize informing communities at higher risk.
- Sensitivity to individual patients infomation privacy.
- With regard to Zika it is prudent to inform the public of the risks and educate them about the disease.
- Encourage those at higher risk to take proactive measures to reduce their personal risk and the risks of others.
- I would guess the current cases in Chattanooga occur in more affluent neighborhoods (those are the people more likely to travel). If a mosquito acquires the disease it is likely to first appear in these neighborhoods.
- Wear effective mosquito repellent (DEET based products or DEET alternatives) or other outdoor focused protective items.
- Also, Wearing long sleeve shirts and pants (not shorts) will reduce skin exposure and thus bite occurrence.
- Mosquito/bug deterring clothing.
- Additionally you can reduce standing water. For instance, if you have something on your property that collects standing water (such as: a lid, pond, or bucket) then emptying the water out and taking measures to limit future pooling of water might have substantial positive impact. For pools and ponds you could consider adding movement to prevent egg laying, fish (to eat the larvae), or chlorination (to kill the larvae).
- Avoid unprotected sex with partners who have been infected with Zika Virus in the previous seven months.
- Avoid ecosystems where mosquitos might be more prevalent (bogs, marshes, wetlands, ponds and other such habitat where mosquitos have an easier time breeding).
- If you have these ecosystems on your property then consider hiring a pest control company to work on mosquito issues. There are other options for mosquito control such as fogging and bug zappers.
- For neighbors that these hazards consider talking to them about the safety concerns.
- In order to address public property that has this kind of habitat then consider contacting your politicians to see if they are able to address the issue. Also contacting the responsible party for the property (like if it was a wetland on a county park, then contacting county parks and recreation might be beneficial).
- Consider writing your congressman to request disaster funding for Zika control for your community. The white house requested $1.9 Billion in funding to address Zika and Congress recessed without approving the request.
Description of the risks:
- Microcephaly in fetuses in pregnant women.
- Zika Virus have been linked in the causation of Guillain-Barré syndrome.
- Potential problems (in mice) include depression and cognitive issues (similar to Alzheimer’s). However, the type of stem cells necessary for mice symptoms are also present in human brains.
As far as schools are concerned I’m not sure what is the best approach. Some routes to consider might be mosquito fogging, indoor recess and mosquito habitat reduction. The primary concern currently should focus on minimizing the number of mosquito bites.
Media should be encouraging people to contact their local health department with Zika questions.
The public education effort on the adult concerns should be proactive. Proactive public education efforts help create a more prepared and less panicked public when infections become prevalent.
Here is a link to the local health department (Hamillton County, Tennessee) page on Zika Virus. At current it does not reflect the medical concerns for adults.
Here is the CDC section on Zika Virus. They seem to be up to date with the adult risks on Guillain-Barre syndrome. However, the CDC does not address the potential longterm cognitive effects, memory problems, depression and alzheimers like symptoms that could potentially effects adults.
Both the local health department and the CDC have listed preventative measures. Their recommendations are similar to my recommendations but read multiple sources never hurt anyone.
Disclaimer: I am not a Medical Doctor or Epidemiologist. Also, I do not work officially in a field focused on Zika. However, I do have some education in ecology and environmental problems and have read a tiny amount of the literature body on this topic. I am writing this more as a concerned parent/citizen than anything else.