It may be the lazy, hazy days of summer, but this is no time to relax where mosquitoes are concerned.
Not only is the mosquito population growing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the number of Americans infected by mosquito bites has more than tripled in the last decade. Climate change and other factors are increasing the mosquito population while warmer weather makes mosquitoes more infectious, increasing your chance of getting sick from a bite.
Most of us regard mosquitoes as little more than hot-weather pests, but the tiny insect is actually the deadliest insect in the world, spreading malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and the Zika virus, among other serious diseases. The Zika virus has no vaccine. Nor is any treatment available. And the United States is more vulnerable to Zika than anyone first thought.
The virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes and has already spread to at least 70 countries and territories in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Western Pacific. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika “a public health emergency of international concern.” WHO estimates three to four million people across the Americas have been infected with the virus.
You probably won’t. Symptoms are usually mild, and include fever, rash, headache, and joint and muscle pain. In fact, 80% of those infected never know they have the disease.
By far those at highest risk are pregnant women, who can pass the virus through amniotic fluid to their growing babies…with devastating results. Zika causes a range of potentially severe birth defects, from brain damage to microcephaly, a neurological disorder that results in babies born with abnormally small heads. The CDC urges all pregnant women to stay away from places where Zika is spreading, wear mosquito repellant (with the active ingredient DEET), dress in long sleeves and pants, and stay inside in air conditioning as much as possible.
This is good advice for everyone as we head into what promises to be a challenging mosquito season.
In the meantime, more must be done to develop a vaccine for the Zika Virus. Zika is a long-term problem that’s going to get worse, and requires a sustained response over time. It’s important to fund basic research to advance current and future vaccine development programs. Contact your congress and senate representatives to ensure continued funding for Zika Virus vaccine and treatment services through the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the CDC.