Monday, February 29, 2016

The Zika Virus: Fact, fiction, and the unknown


Hello lovely readers, 

Welcome to the new and improved, and much more fancy website! Despite my absence, I have been busy making babies, editing textbooks, teaching and advising students, and trying to enjoy life in the crazy city I call home. 

Speaking of craziness, let's talk Zika. You've heard it all over the news, you've seen the viral Facebook  posts about it, but what exactly is going on? Should you be freaking out, or is this all hype?

Well I am here to tell you to take a deep breath and not freak out just yet. Because, quite frankly, not much as been scientifically confirmed. There has been a lot of speculation and possible links, and not all that much sound evidence. 

What do we know:
  • The Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes, who then bite humans, and give them the disease. 
  • Most people who become infected with the virus have no symptoms and feel nothing. Only 1 out of 5 people (20%) who are infected with Zika have symptoms and they are pretty mild - you feel kind of crappy for a couple days with some body aches, red eyes, and a rash. You are supposed to take some Tylenol, get some rest, and wait for it to pass. (More info from the CDC). 
  • The Zika virus was first identified in humans in 1952 in Nigeria. It was identified in the Pacific in 2007 and in 2015 in the Americas. This virus has been around a while and around the block. 
  • One particular kind of mosquito has been found to carry the Zika virus, Aedes aegypti while Aedes albopictus is thought to be a possible carrier as well. They both have black and white legs, and black and white bodies (although they vary on the pattern).
    What is going on:
    • Women in Brazil have been giving birth to babies with smaller heads (microcephaly). 
    • There is a good amount of overreporting of these cases, as the government in Brazil set a broad definition of what a "small" head means (according to their definition, both my boys would have had microcephaly, which they do not) and more doctors are now looking out for this.
    • Out of 404 confirmed cases of babies with microcephaly (there are still over 3,600 babies waiting to be properly tested), the Zika virus was found in 17. 
    • It appears that Zika could be spread through sex.

    What does this mean all mean?? Right now, there are a lot of unknowns and the data is all over the place. Scientists are trying to figure out the actual CAUSAL link between Zika and microcephaly, which is difficult to do.  Government agencies are freaking out and staying cautious, telling all pregnant woman to avoid travel to countries with Zika, and to use protection if they have a partner who traveled to a country with Zika. In general, just be careful if you are in a place with mosquitoes - use bug spray (use it all over your body. Those suckers are sneaky and can get under clothing), wear long pants and sleeves, close doors and windows,and make sure there aren't holes in any window or door screens. These particular mosquitoes bite during the day too, so use bug spray at all times. My family and I just came back from the Caribbean and we didn't get a single mosquito bite - we were just that careful. 

    I'll keep updating and parsing through the media hype as news trickles in. Stay tuned. 

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