Thursday, February 18, 2016

Zika in Texas: What You Need to Know

With the recent Zika virus diagnosis in Texas, many of the state's residents have questions about the disease. Addressing your concerns is Professor and Chair of LETU's Department of Biology Dr. Greg Frederick. Dr. Frederick has over 35 years of experience as a biologist, has been professionally published more than a dozen times and has been awarded multiple professional honors and research grants. 

There’s been a confirmed diagnosis of Zika virus in Texas. Should Texans be concerned?
There are two different genres of mosquitos that can harbor Zika virus that are endemic to Texas. If a patient comes to this area, is bit by a mosquito and the mosquito bites you, then theoretically, it can be transmitted to you. How likely is that? The cases worldwide still aren’t enormous. I don’t think we need to be overly concerned about it.

There are two main mechanisms for protection. Don’t have standing pools of water around your home. Mosquitos like to grow anywhere water can be trapped. Use insecticide. As far as general transmission, at this point in time, there’s no indication that the mosquito population of Texas has been vastly affected.

There have been reports that the larvicide pyriproxyfen might actually be causing microcephaly. Do you think this is a reliable claim? 
I would encourage sticking with more credible sources. There are WHO documents supporting the use of pyriproxyfen in water in many nations further back than 2008. These birth defects have not been reported in other areas. Therefore, I do not believe this larvicide as possibly causative should be discussed at this point. 

Texas had an Ebola scare recently; is this more or less of a threat?
Both infections cause very serious devastation but the impact is very different. Ebola can very easily kill an adult, whereas Zika virus is much less likely to do so. It has much more impact on a developing fetus. It’s really only a concern for women who are pregnant, and especially in the early stages of pregnancy. It can cause abnormalities in development such as microcephaly.

Zika virus isn’t new. Because of advanced surveillance systems, we can now detect disease more effectively. That creates a larger knowledge base but also tends to give the media ammunition for hysteria. If you’re not on the border or the Gulf Coast area, I don’t think you need to worry about it nearly as much as the media implies. We’ll see how things progress as the climate warms up this summer. Avoid being bit by mosquitoes as much as possible, though; I’d be more worried about West Nile than Zika.

What areas of Texas are most at risk?
Areas close to the Mexican border and Gulf Coast areas. Moisture and humidity that makes for potential breeding grounds are at risk. However, it can be transmitted anywhere if an infected person travels into that area and is bitten by mosquitoes.

What are the symptoms of Zika virus?
The symptoms seem to be very minor: fever, headache. Most people who are infected don’t even realize they have it. For adults, the immune system will take care of it within a few weeks. It shouldn’t be a problem after that period of time. If you’re anyone other than a pregnant woman, it’s not a major cause for concern.

The good side of the coin is, as more people become infected and the immune system deals with the virus, there are less potential hosts for the virus to transmit into the mosquito population. We see that with a lot of the diseases–humans get it and then become protected from the virus. It’s essentially a natural vaccination process.

Do pregnant women go through this natural vaccination process?
There’s a real complication with that because a fetus has little functional immunity. Once the virus gets into the fetus, it has some passive immunity from antibodies that are passed from the mother through the placenta to the fetus. However, unless the mother was infected prior to pregnancy and already developed immunity, it will take seven to ten days for her to develop antibodies to the virus. By then, the virus has already had a lot of time to infect the fetus and cause devastation. If the mother had been exposed previous and developed immunity, the fetus should be protected by this passive immunity.

Taking precaution against mosquito-borne disease is never a bad idea, especially for pregnant women. Stock up on insecticide, then visit to learn about STEM career fields. 

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