Seven Things You Should Know About the Zika Virus

Colorado mosquito experts offer advice

How concerned should people be about the Zika virus? What research is being conducted on the virus? Is a vaccine the best or only approach to containing the virus?

Scientists at Colorado State University’s Arthropod-Borne and Infectious Diseases Laboratory are among the nation’s experts on these topics, and they have compiled a list of key facts about the Zika virus.

  1. The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the main culprit spreading the virus. This mosquito lives in tropical environments and feeds mostly, if not exclusively, on human blood, said Dr. Rebekah Kading, CSU assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology. “Aedes aegypti is known to feed more frequently, which leads to more virus transmission,” she said. The mosquito has everything it needs in a household environment, and it is well-adapted to being around people. In its early stages, the mosquito develops in containers of water.
  2. People who have been infected with the Zika virus describe the symptoms as similar to having a migraine. Dr. Brian Foy, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology, said that when he came down with the Zika virus in 2008, he had a bad headache, and light bothered his eyes. He also had arthritis-like pain in his wrists, ankles, and thumb joints.
  3. To prevent mosquito bites in general, people should use an insect repellent with the active ingredient DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), which experts say provides the best protection against mosquitos. Kading said that people should also dump water standing in containers in or near their homes and wear long sleeves and pants if they are heading to a place that has mosquitos.
  4. It is unlikely that there will be mass outbreaks of Zika virus in the U.S. because the country lacks the tropical climate that has supported the recent, explosive spread of the virus in South and Central America. Foy said it’s likely that the virus will spread in limited parts of the country when the weather warms up. To date, there have been approximately 30 confirmed cases of Zika virus infection in the U.S.; almost all stemmed from people traveling overseas.
  5. The Gulf Coast of the U.S.—which includes the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida—is susceptible to an outbreak, and people with a lower socioeconomic status will be most affected, said Dr. Greg Ebel, director of CSU’s Arthropod-Borne and Infectious Diseases Laboratory. People with air-conditioned homes are less likely to be bitten by mosquitos, Ebel said.
  6. There is evidence that the virus can be transmitted sexually. In a 2011 paper, Foy described an anonymous scientist who came down with Zika virus and transmitted the virus to his wife. (The virus was not immediately confirmed because medical staff was not looking for it.) A reporter for Science magazine deduced that the anonymous researcher was in fact Foy. Based on circumstantial evidence, the transmission was through sexual intercourse. In addition, researchers isolated Zika virus in a man’s semen during an outbreak in the South Pacific islands.
  7. Potential solutions for stopping the Zika virus go beyond developing a vaccine. Foy said that new, interesting technology is being developed to stop the virus spread within mosquitos. In addition, researchers are trying to specifically target infected mosquitos instead of the entire mosquito population. There are also new genetic strategies aimed at tackling the virus.

Source: Colorado State University; February 4, 2016.