The Zika Virus: A Healthwise special with Karin McCay - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

The Zika Virus: A Healthwise special with Karin McCay

(Source: KCBD) (Source: KCBD)

It might seem like Zika appeared out of nowhere last year. But the Zika virus was first identified in in 1947 in the Zika Forest of Uganda. It was considered a minor league disease that caused flu like symptoms.

It took 60 years for the mosquito that carries Zika to travel from Africa to the island of Yap in the Pacific in 2007. Then it took only 8 years for Zika to get to South America. That's when it took off, spreading rapidly through Latin America. But it wasn't until last fall as it moved toward the U.S, that scientists realized how dangerous this virus could be to a pregnancy.   

Almost every day, we hear health officials who shake their heads and say we just don’t know enough about this virus.

Here's what the CDC does know: that 3 out of 4 people infected by Zika will have no symptoms. That appears to be the case for children and adults.

However, among the one out of 4 who reacts, symptoms can include fever, rash, headaches, joint pain, muscle pain, lack of energy, weakness and even pink eye.

The biggest concern comes if a pregnant woman gets the sting of a Zika  infected mosquito, then the consequences could be devastating.

When the Rio Olympics were given a spot on the calendar, nobody dreamed of what Zika could do... until health officials in Brazil began to notice an unusually high number of babies born with Microcephaly. That’s a birth defect characterized by small heads and underdeveloped brains.

Instead of up to 200 cases a year, Brazil suddenly had more than 35 hundred babies born with this condition.

More recently, scientists have learned that even in Zika infected babies born with a head that appears normal, there can still be many other problems with hearing, vision, or developmental delays.

Zika is mostly passed to humans from one certain strain of mosquito, the Aedes Egypti.

And that Is a bug that already lives in Texas, even in Lubbock.

According to the World Health Organization, mosquito bites result in the deaths of more than 1 million people every year, mostly from malaria.

1500 of those are in the U.S. every year, due to travelers who bring it here. Dengue fever and West Nile Virus are also the result of mosquito bites that can turn deadly. But Zika is the first to threaten the unborn....  and not just through a mosquito bite.

The virus has also been passed sexually.

Also, blood centers are screening for Zika now to make sure it does not pass from one person to another through a blood donation.

But now, back to the bug that already lives in Texas.

Dr. Ron Warner, an epidemiologist at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, says the strain of mosquito that carries Zika is in the Lubbock area and it has different habits from the mosquito we often warn against. For one, it does not feed at dusk and dawn, the times we are warned to protect ourselves against mosquitoes. Instead, he says, the Aedes Egypti mosquito is a day feeder, which means it could bite any time of the day.

But, Dr. Warner says, "In my opinion it would be difficult for this disease to take hold here because the Aedes Egypti is not the predominant mosquito here. And I think it would be more likely that it would establish itself in a southern climate, somewhere along the gulf where the Aedes Mosquito is more predominant."

Dr. Duncan Burkholder, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Grace Clinic, says patients are nervous. But this is how he explains what the virus can do to a fetus, "It all has to do with the central nervous system.  This virus is causing damage to developing brain tissue, blood vessels, and not just the brain, but also the spinal cord, and therefore we are hearing about babies that are born with hearing defects as well as visual defects."

Since we all hear that our best defense is mosquito protection, Dr. Burkholder says pregnant women are concerned about the toxicity of a bug spray. But he says it’s not a good idea to turn to natural remedies. Instead, it’s just safer to use what’s proven effective.

He says, "The American College of OB-GYN has done a lot of research about this.  There are three safe mosquito repellents.  The most common one is Deet that you see in most commercial products.  There are a couple of other ones that are effective, and they're safe in pregnancy."

As far as sexual transmission, he says "new information comes out every day. But, fortunately this virus only stays in the body for a short period of time, sort of like the flu.  So, with women, it's pretty much out of their body within a few days, and with men it lingers longer. But never the less, it can be transmitted for up to six months from a man to a woman or two months from a woman to a man according to the information that we have currently."

James LeClair is regional director of field operations at United Blood Services. He says initially, they were deferring blood donors who had traveled to Zika infected areas. But now, he says a new Zika test allows them to take any donation, then test it for Zika.

He says, "That’s in its investigative stages, of course, but we do use it to try to rule out any zika transfusions."

Dr. Anne Epstein, Internal Medicine, is also Chairman of the Board of the Lubbock Health Department.

She says protecting individuals against this virus is really everyone’s responsibility to protect themselves with mosquito repellent, and to manage their property to cut down on mosquitoes.

For parents who are worried that the Zika virus may leave some marker and return months or years later like chicken pox may return as shingles, Dr. Epstein says that is like comparing apples and oranges.She says that characteristic is unlike anything that would happen in the family of viruses that include  Zika.  She says, “We know its cousins. And its cousins are not like that.”  So how does the virus leave the body? She says our immune system fights it and kills it.

Dr. Epstein says Lubbock Health officials are working hard to prevent any increase in Zika cases by developing a good community partnership, including increased vector control, more awareness among families that may be planning a pregnancy, and education among residents on mosquito prevention.

Copyright 2016 KCBD. All rights reserved.

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    The Zika Virus: A Healthwise Special with Karin McCay

    The Zika Virus: A Healthwise Special with Karin McCay

    (Source: KCBD)(Source: KCBD)

    "The Zika Virus-A Healthwise Special with Karin McCay" airs Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 7 p.m. This program will include an in-depth look at the latest on research, prevention, and the local impact of zika here in West Texas.

    "The Zika Virus-A Healthwise Special with Karin McCay" airs Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 7 p.m. This program will include an in-depth look at the latest on research, prevention, and the local impact of zika here in West Texas.

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