A recent USA Today article offers answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the mosquito-borne Zika virus. The virus has led to an epidemic of birth defects and cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare condition that causes paralysis, in Latin and South America. The virus can be spread through mosquitos, sexual transmission and in some cases through blood transfusions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) have cautioned that the virus is “scarier than we initially thought.”
Zika can now be diagnosed by a commercially available PCR test that can detect the virus four to seven days after symptoms begin. The new test allows for a more rapid diagnosis of those experiencing Zika symptoms and will help to prevent potential backlogs at the nation’s public health laboratories.
While it is possible to contract the virus through blood transfusions, the risk is low in the continental USA as the virus is not spreading among local mosquitos. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved experimental test for screening blood products has allowed Puerto Rico to resume the previously halted collection of blood donations. The American Red Cross, American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) and the Canadian Blood Services are all taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus through blood products by asking those who have recently traveled to Zika-affected areas to avoid donating blood.
U.S. officials have been preparing for an increase in local cases of the virus, but Congress has been struggling to reach an agreement for emergency funding. President Obama has transferred $510 million of unspent Ebola funds towards fighting and preparing for Zika in the U.S., but has also requested $1.9 billion from Congress. The CDC has also announced millions of dollars in grants for states that submit Zika action plans that include a “checklist of readiness activities.”
“Despite the efforts, U.S. officials are warning that mosquito eradication efforts, lab tests and vaccine research may not be able to catch up with the number of cases.”
The USA Today article answers other common questions including:
- What parts of the country could be hardest hit?
- How can the risk of Zika be reduced?
- Are there concerns this summer’s Olympics could spread the virus wider?
- What advice do U.S. agencies give for couples trying to conceive and pregnant women?
- How serious is the risk of sexual transmission?
- What are the symptoms of Zika?
- What populations are at greatest risk of Zika?
- When and where did this current outbreak begin?
- Why did some nations advise women to postpone pregnancy?
- What treatments or vaccines are available for Zika virus?