President Obama’s Feb. 22 statement asking Congress for $1.9 billion to fight the Zika Virus, a virus spread by infected mosquitos and linked to birth defects in Brazil, has not yet been fulfilled though The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a global “public emergency” on Feb. 1. Congress adjourned for its spring break without approving the funds and won’t meet again until the first part of April, STAT News said March 23. The WHO said it’s now running out of funds to respond to and fight the virus around the world.
Cases of the virus have appeared in the United States and in countries to which some of Cedarville University’s Global Outreach teams will travel this summer. But for the Zika-affected countries in which the WHO has issued travel notices, no notice exceeds level two, “practice enhanced precautions.”
Origins of the virus
The Zika Virus was first discovered in a forest in Uganda in the 1940s, according to the WHO. The WHO said the virus spread to other parts of Africa and to Asia from the 1960s to the 1980s. In 2007, there was an outbreak of it on islands in the Pacific Ocean, and by 2015, the virus had made it to Brazil.
The Zika Virus spreads from mosquitos to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. However, the virus can also be transmitted via sexual contact, blood transfusion, or occasionally from mother to child.
Peter Piermarini, assistant professor of entomology at Ohio State University, said he believes the tipping point of the Zika Virus outbreak in Brazil happened during the World Cup in 2014 when a traveler from southeast Asia or Africa brought the virus to Brazil.
According to the WHO, the Zika Virus then spread out from Brazil to countries all over Latin America. Cases of the virus have appeared in the U.S., but each is travel-associated, meaning that the virus has been carried into the U.S. by people traveling to and from the country.
“People have been traveling to these countries and bringing the virus into the U.S., and that’s what I think what the greatest risk in the U.S. is going to be – when we get into the peak mosquito season where we could get transmission occurring,” Piermarini said.
Two-hundred-fifty-eight travel-associated cases have popped up in the U.S. as of March 16 data, but none have been locally acquired. According to the WHO, eight individuals in Ohio have been diagnosed with the Zika Virus.
The WHO last declared a public emergency in August 2014 for Ebola.
Symptoms of the virus
According to the CDC, one in five people infected with the Zika Virus show symptoms. Symptoms may include rash, muscle pain and/or fever.
The CDC noted, “People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika.”
The CDC has associated the virus with microcephaly, a defect in which babies are born with unusually small heads. This may lead to seizures, intellectual problems or developmental delays.
However, Greene County Public Health nurse Amy Schmidt said there is no definitive connection between the virus and microcephaly.
“Additional studies are needed to determine that cause and effect, and I know that those studies are ongoing,” Schmidt said.
Similarly, Schmidt said the CDC did not have a definite answer as to whether Zika creates Guillain-Barré syndrome, a nervous system disorder in adults.
Spreading of the virus
Piermarini said the main mosquito known for spreading the disease is the Aedes aegypti, also known as the yellow fever mosquito, which lives primarily in the southern U.S. – along the Gulf Coast and Florida rather than in Ohio. However, the Aedes albopictus, also known as the Asian tiger mosquito, is also present in the U.S. and can carry the virus, but it is unclear how efficient that mosquito is at spreading the disease. The CDC said the Asian tiger mosquito is found in a larger part of the United States, including the midwest.
Ginger Cameron, assistant professor of pharmacy at Cedarville, said the biggest risk of the Zika Virus becoming widespread in the U.S. will come during the Olympics in Brazil this summer. Still, she said she doesn’t believe it will become as widespread as it has become in Brazil.
“Because of the living conditions in the United States, we will not have the conditions to spread it as quickly as they are spreading it down there,” she said.
Piermarini agreed with Cameron and said there will be less chance of the virus running rampant in the U.S., because people in the U.S. are more likely to have screened-in windows and air conditioning.
“The chances of (people in the U.S.) being exposed to mosquitos is relatively low compared to other places like Brazil and other parts of Latin America where not a large part of the population has access to air conditioning, and people’s houses are more open,” Piermarini said.
He also said people in the U.S. tend to stay indoors during the hot summer months, which makes them less likely to be bitten by Zika-infected mosquitos.
Additionally, the U.S. has the benefit of time, Piermarini said.
“It just kind of I think blindsided a lot of people in Brazil. There wasn’t really much warning. They were kind of the leading edge,” Piermarini said. “We’ll have the advantage of trying to prepare, especially since there are are no mosquitos flying around at this time of the year. So, we’ll have a head start at least.”
According to the Feb. 22 press release from the White House, the president’s requested emergency funds would support efforts domestically and internationally to stop the spread of the virus. Namely, the funds would strengthen the United States’ ability to “prevent, detect, and respond to” transmission of the Zika Virus and speed up the research for and development of vaccines for treating the virus. Funding would also be given to Medicaid in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Territories to better serve at-risk pregnant women and children with microcephaly, the birth defect said to be caused by the virus.
As of March 23, no official vaccine has been discovered.
“Apparently there are some technical and clinical bottlenecks to getting vaccines approved, so I’m thinking it’s going to be a few years before one is widely available,” Piermarini said.
However, Texas Children’s Hospital and Houston Methodist Hospital marked a breakthrough in developing a test that detects the Zika Virus, USA Today said Feb. 23. While it will only be available to hospital patients, the test checks blood, amniotic fluid, urine or spinal fluid for the virus and provides results in just a few hours. The test does not cure the virus, but it helps with preventing the virus’ spread and treating infected individuals who do not show symptoms of having the virus.
Global Outreach trips
Brian Nester, director of Global Outreach (GO) at Cedarville University, said that GO would be understanding if a person were to decide to not go on a GO trip to a Zika Virus-affected country.
“If you’re fearful or super, super anxious, you’re not going to be effective on the trip anyway,” Nester said.
He said no one has yet withdrawn from a trip because of concern over the Zika Virus. Nester said the only instance in which GO would prohibit someone from going on a trip to a country in concern is that if that person was already pregnant.
Should one withdraw from a trip because of concern for the Zika Virus, Nester said GO would do everything in its power to get refunds on plane tickets that had already been bought. He said one option would be to reroute plane tickets to a trip in a non-Zika-affected country.
GO shared an email from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with all leaders of teams traveling to Zika-affected countries. Those traveling to such countries should wear insect repellant with DEET and wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.
According to the CDC, the best prevention is protecting oneself from mosquito bites.
Learn more, or test your knowledge of the Zika Virus online http://wapo.st/1UkAH8z
Editor’s note: This story was updated from print 3/23/16 to provide the most current information regarding the Zika Virus.
Jen Taggart is a junior journalism major and off-campus news editor for Cedars. She enjoys writing, listening to music and fueling her chocolate addiction.
Cedars editor Anna Dembowski contributed to this story.