Zika: Summer 2016

If you’d never heard of the Zika virus before this year, you are not alone. It was isolated to monkeys in Uganda in the Zika Rainforest, and since the time it was discovered in 1947, most people had never heard of it. That is until now.

The global outbreak of the Zika virus is predicted to infect up to 4 million people in the Americas this year. It is carried by certain mosquitoes and can be transmitted by sexual contact as well.

The virus can cause devastating birth defects called microcephaly, which is when babies are born with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development.

This concern caused U.S. federal health officials to take some $81 million in funds from various government programs and divert it to researching a Zika vaccine. That happened on Thursday, August 11.  Everyday there is a new development in the research and fight to cure Zika as well as new numbers of infected people.

August 10, four more cases of the Zika infection were reported in the Miami, Florida area, bringing the count of cases to 21, according to Florida’s Governor, Rick Smith. Those are locally acquired cases (which means the infected people were infected with the virus while traveling outside of the U.S.).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of August 12, the six U.S. States that CHRISTUS Health serves (Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas) have experienced no locally acquired cases.  Instead laboratory tests-confirmed the Zika virus disease cases have been reported as travel-associated cases.

More than 7,000 confirmed cases of Zika have been confirmed in the U.S. In Texas, 102 cases have been reported, all related to travel abroad.

So far, the Zika infections reported in the United States mainly have been linked to travel to countries with Zika outbreaks in Latin America or the Caribbean.

In addition to mosquitoes, the Zika virus can be transmitted through sex. The CDC has reported 16 cases of sexually transmitted infections.

Texas Medicaid Now Provides Insect Repellent Coverage for Women

August 9, The Health and Human Services Commission began to cover the cost of mosquito repellent for women who are between the ages of 10 and 45 or who are pregnant and who are enrolled in Medicaid, CHIP or the Healthy Texas Women Program. To receive this benefit, eligible women must obtain a prescription for the repellent and must pick it up at a pharmacy. An office visit is not required if the physician calls the prescription in to the pharmacy. Eligible women can receive up to two cans of repellent per month through October 31.

 CHRISTUS Expert Weighs In

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes. Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. Symptoms can last for several days to a week. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital. In fact, Cindy Powers, the director of infection, prevention and control for the CHRISTUS Southeast Texas region, says 80 percent of people have mild or no memorable symptoms

“If you are pregnant or plan on having children, it is important you contact your doctor or health professional,” says Powers. “There is no vaccination or medicines for Zika.  But, work is underway to change that.”

She recommends people follow these tips from the CDC to minimize risk of infection.

  • Apply insect repellent regularly. Avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Insect repellents registered by the EPA contain a higher percentage of active ingredients that provide longer protection.
  • Cover yourself during the daytime. Along with using insect repellent, dress in clothes that cover arms and legs.
  • Empty standing water. Mosquitoes lay eggs near standing water. Clean objects that hold water. For example, rain gutters, buckets, toys, birdbaths and above-ground kid pools can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
  • Use screens or close windows and doors. Keep the mosquitoes outside by inspecting your house for possible mosquito entry points and cover those areas to prevent mosquitoes from entering.
  • There are other ways of getting a Zika infection besides mosquito bites (blood transfusions, sexual contact, laboratory exposure, etc.).  For more information, visit the CDC website.
  • Prepare for travel. Stay informed of the areas that have Zika and check travel notices before your departure.