The Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Dr Anthony Fauci was reported saying on Sunday to Fox News in an interview that ‘the US is likely to see outbreaks of Zika virus’.
Director of CDC’s vector-borne disease section Dr Lyle Peterson says, ‘The outbreaks are expected to be small – not the millions of cases being reported in Latin America and the Caribbean – because in parts of the United States where Aedes mosquitoes are found, many people live in air conditioned dwellings, with screens on windows and doors.’ Out of all the states, Florida currently has 82 reported cases and is further expected to have the highest Zika virus rate too, urging Senator Marco Rubio to take preventive measures, followed closely by New York with 54 cases and Texas with 27.
Zika virus, similar to dengue and chikungunya virus, spreads through the ‘Aedes aegypti’ mosquito and possibly ‘Aedes albopictus’, but can be transmitted through sexual contact as well. A study conducted at Purdue University by Richard Kuhn, Michael Rossman and their colleagues investigated the structure of the virus and revealed that it was ‘similar to other flaviviruses, including dengue and West Nile viruses’. Kuhn further goes on to say that ‘determining the structure greatly advances our understanding of Zika – a virus about which is little known. It illuminates the most promising areas for further testing and research to combat infection.’
A survey by The Annenberg Public Policy Center discovered that there is a misconception regarding the fatality of Zika virus. Though it isn’t necessarily fatal and symptoms are usually mild and initially flu like, few cases where complications occurred have resulted in deaths.
There is currently no anti viral therapy or vaccine available for Zika virus but research is underway for the possibility of one, especially since the structure of the virus has also been discovered. Anthony Fauci on Thursday stated that the ‘investigators may be able to start a clinical trial for a vaccine as early as this year’. It is important to note however that this would just be a trial and that a final product would require some more time. He says, “While these approaches are promising, it is important to understand that we will not have a widely available, safe and effective Zika vaccine this year and probably not even in the next few years.”
In a discussion with Fox News aired on Sunday with Anthony Fauci and Chris Wallace, Fauci spoke about the request made to Obama for $1.9 billion. He stated how valuable this money was to carry out effective treatment regarding the virus. When Chris Wallace asked him what would happen if the request gets turned down, Fauci was quoted saying, “Then what we’ll have to do is to take things away from other very important areas and move it here, because we can’t stop. We can’t just not address this. This is really a very important thing. So we’ll have to be moving money around.”
He further goes on to say that ‘it may be something that may be a small chance of a wide outbreak, but as long as there is the chance, if you get caught without being prepared, then you have a real problem. And that’s the reason why we emphasize the need, not for concern, but the need for preparation.’
The first ever outbreak of Zika occurred in Brazil in 2013 when a shrunken brain and skull birth defect was first observed, also known as microcephaly, in up to 4,000 infants. It is now making its way towards America although no cases have come by locally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a total of 358 travel associated Zika virus cases out of which 31 were pregnant women, seven were sexually transmitted and one had Guillian-Barre syndrome. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that ‘even in the best settings, 3-5% of Guillian-Barre patients die from complications, which can include paralysis of the muscles that control breathing, blood infection, lung clots or cardiac arrest.’
The most common symptoms of Zika virus are joint pain, rashes, fever and non-purulent conjunctivitis (eye inflammation) and myalgia (generalized muscle pain) although only 20-25% of people who have been infected display symptoms of Zika disease. However, it can be extremely painful with the sufferer likely to stay ill for several days.