The World Health Organization’s declaration that the Zika virus is “spreading explosively” throughout the Americas caught our attention – and may have caught yours as well. Rather than give another summary of the disease (check out the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization websites), we thought we’d take a minute to share a few reasons why US residents should not panic.
- The Zika virus does NOT spread through human-to-human contact. Rather, people become infected when they are bit by a mosquito that is carrying the virus. All of the current US cases of Zika involve people catching the disease while they were travelling abroad in a region where the virus is prevalent.
- The mosquito species that plays the biggest role in the current outbreak, Aedes aegypti, is not widely distributed in the US. It is found in the southeastern region of the US but is usually not found elsewhere in the country.
- The fact that much of the US experiences a cold winter helps to keep the US mosquito population in check. Fewer mosquitos means a lower chance of Zika-infected mosquitos – and lower rates of disease transmission.
- Our use of air conditioning, screened windows, and insect repellants reduces our contact with mosquitos and the number of mosquito bites that we receive. This in turn reduces our risk of being infected with the Zika virus. Sadly, many victims don’t have access to these important preventative measures.
These points help to illustrate the populations who are – and are not – at risk of contracting the Zika virus. Clearly people living in tropical and subtropical regions with high concentrations of mosquitos - and little or no protection against those insects - are at the highest risk.
While there’s no cause for panic here in the US, our public health and healthcare systems must stay vigilant. We will unfortunately learn more about the Zika virus as the current crisis continues. The more we learn, the more we’ll be able to mount and maintain a strong counteroffensive against this dreaded disease.