Friday, February 5, 2016

Zika Watch: Week 2

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
Last week I talked about the heretofore-unknown virus that was showing up on social media and scaring the crap out of people with phrases like "spreading explosively", "causes birth defects" and "no resistance or immunity to the virus."

It's a week later and some things have changed, and some new information has come to the fore. As long as this situation continues to develop, I will keep posting about it.

So here's what's new this week:

The Zika virus can be sexually transmitted. 
This ought to come as a surprise to no one. We already know it's spread when a mosquito drinks the blood of someone with the virus and then goes on to feed from an uninfected host; from what we know of infection, this meant it was highly likely that it could be spread through sexual contact as well. It's just how viruses work.

The solution to this is very simple: If someone you know has come back from an international vacation where they might have contracted Zika, don't have sexual intercourse or fluid contact with them for 2 weeks. I arrived at this number based upon this New Zealand Ministry of Health report, which actually gives the longest incubation period I've yet seen: 3-12 days (most other sources range from "a few days" to "a week".) So give it two weeks, unless your partner shows symptoms of being sick, in which case you wait until they're feeling better. Once they've recovered, which usually takes a week, they ought to be immune and no longer contagious.

Worst case scenario? You're looking at being abstinent for three weeks. This is not a big deal.

12 cases of  Zika Fever in Florida; Governor declaring health emergency in five counties.
I know this sounds scary, but I live in Florida and I'm not scared. Here's why this is a lot of hot air:
  1. None of these cases are a result of local transmission, which is when the virus is prevalent within the community and mosquitoes and/or sexual contact are spreading them between hosts. Instead, all of these cases are the result of people having contracted it while outside the country and then bringing it back with them. 
  2. It's winter in Florida, and while that isn't the same thing as winter up north, we've just had a week of temperatures near freezing followed by two weeks of temps in the 40s through 60s. In other words, too cold for mosquitoes. I will be really surprised if anyone develops local transmission via non-sexual means. 
  3. Declaring a health emergency is sort of like the President declaring an area a disaster zone: it frees up various funding and allows for certain actions to take place. In this case, it means aggressive anti-mosquito programs will start up now, rather than in the spring. 
  4. When I attended high school in Florida, there was a big scare about mosquito-borne encephalitis. This was a much bigger deal than Zika is now, and yet it resulted in only 114 cases and a mere six fatalities. Floridians know how to deal with mosquitoes. 
  5. The mosquitoes which spread Zika are easily defeated with things like screens on doors and windows, air-conditioning to keep people inside, and repellent sprays that contain DEET.
Not a big deal here, either.

It's Spreading!
Of course it's spreading. Viruses do that, especially in countries close to the equator where it's warm and mosquitoes thrive. It's also summer in the southern hemisphere. At this point, just consider all of Central America, South America, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and Africa to be Zika hot zones.

Again, the phrase you are looking for is Local Transmission. If you don't see that in your country, then odds are good there's nothing to worry about. The places to watch are the Gulf states here in America and the southern European countries like Spain and Italy, where it gets warmer sooner.

If you want a list of which countries have active transmission, the CDC has a page that is regularly updated with new information.

The World Health Organization now 'strongly suspects' that Zika causes microcephaly.
This isn't much of a surprise either. Last week, there was just "a link" between the two, but that's because doctors and scientists are cagey when it comes to making declarations. They've had a week to study it, and now they have more evidence to support the already-good theory that the massive increase in microcephalic births isn't a coincidence.

This is not no bigger a deal now than it was last week. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, you likely would have avoided the Zika outbreak areas anyway; this semi-confirmation should just cement your resolve not to go there or have relations with anyone who's been there for 2-3 weeks.

It looks like there might be something to that link between Zika Fever and Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
This is the only bit of news that is even slightly a big deal. However, there are a few things to keep in mind here:
  1. There's ONE scientist (Dr. Didier Musso) who says the link is "almost certain". He might be right; he might be wrong. He's not a research scientist; he simply managed the Zika outbreak in French Polynesia in 2013.
  2. Remember that 80% of all people who contract Zika don't get sick at all. I have yet to read of anyone contracting the virus, not getting sick, and yet developing GBS anyway. This might change in the future, but for now it seems safe and logical to assume that if the virus doesn't get you sick then you won't develop GBS. 
  3. If you do develop it, good news: modern medicine knows how to treat it. Most people who contract it recover completely; 33% continue to experience significant long-term problems like paralysis, chronic pain and fatigue. A small portion (5%) die from it: if you're a gamer like I am, those are the same odds as rolling a Critical Failure on a 20-sided die. 

Continue monitoring the situation, but understand there is still nothing to worry about if you live in Canada, the USA, or Europe. The odds are massively in your favor that nothing bad will happen to you with this virus. Continue to bolster those odds by staying indoors whenever possible (unless it's freezing where you live, in which case you have nothing to worry about from mosquitoes), using DEET-based repellent, and not having fluid contact with someone who has been to a potential hot zone.

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