Bethesda, MD – On April 13, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study that finally showed a conclusive causal link between the mosquito-borne Zika virus and microcephaly, which causes severe birth defects in newborns. In addition, the World Health Organization just confirmed that many Zika virus victims also suffer a paralyzing sickness called Guillane-Barre syndrome.
In the coming months, flocks of mosquitos will be swarming much of the United States, and some of them could be carrying the Zika virus. Unfortunately, the CDC reports that the Aedes aegypti mosquito’s natural range could include the entire state of Maryland this year, which is just on the wrong side of the northern edge of the bug’s territory.
To prepare for a possible outbreak of the virus, public health officials at nearly every level are working together to minimize the risks to states like Maryland. In February, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced the first confirmed case of a Maryland resident infected with the virus. Like most other reported cases in the United States, the victim had recently traveled to Latin America.
“Our department will continue to actively partner with the CDC, Maryland healthcare providers, laboratories, and health departments to provide support to Marylanders at risk of Zika infection — especially to pregnant women,” said Secretary Van T. Mitchell at the time. “As CDC guidance has evolved, we actually have expanded access to testing for people who had not met that agency’s initial testing criteria.”
Public health officials face an uphill battle because many people who are infected with the Zika virus experience no symptoms. Most people only experience mild symptoms, such as fever, rash, joint pain, muscle pain, headaches, other flu like symptoms, and/or conjunctivitis.
Increasingly, people with symptoms like these are likely to avoid emergency rooms for urgent care centers, where 57% of patients are seen in under 15 minutes. That can make it difficult for public health officials to diagnose infected patients. The CDC wants people experiencing these symptoms to always inform their healthcare provider if they have recently traveled to countries like Brazil.
The guidelines for Maryland residents concerned about the Zika virus are the same as for residents in other areas, and the CDC has an entire resource page for concerned Americans. Specifically, the agency has issued the following recommendations:
Pregnant women or anyone who could become pregnant should avoid Central America, South America, and Caribbean nations with a Zika outbreak. Refunds may even be available for those with preexisting travel arrangements.
Because the Zika virus can be transmitted sexually, men who travel to areas with the Zika virus should always wear a condom during sex.
During mosquito season, residents should take care to eliminate potential mosquito breeding grounds near their home. Mosquitos breed in any source of standing water, like puddles, bird fountains, or discarded tires filled with rainwater.