By Lurvin Fernandez
Florida officials say they are better prepared this year if the Zika virus reappears, but much of the country expects funding allocated after the last outbreak to run out around the peak of the mosquito season.
Meanwhile, agencies and health departments say the need for research and aid grows.
“We need to continue to explore the full life cycle of the Zika virus, develop a vaccine, learn about other therapeutic methods — it goes on,” said Dr. Paul Jarris, chief medical officer and senior vice president of Mission Impact for the March of Dimes. “There’s so much left to do, and Zika is not going away.”
In 2015, few people worried about the Zika virus in the United States. Only about 60 infections were reported in travelers returning from affected areas.
But the mosquito-bourne illness raised concern in Brazil. Multiple babies were born with smaller than average heads, a birth defect linked to the virus, which was shown to attack a growing baby’s brain while still in the womb.
Only a year later, Zika had a strong hold on the nation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, territories and state health departments reported about 5,100 cases. In small areas of South Florida and Texas, nearly 280 people were infected locally by mosquitoes.
So far this year, 148 cases have been reported among people who traveled to mosquito-infested areas. About 2,000 pregnant women nationwide are known to have been infected since the CDC began monitoring the virus last year, and about 10 percent of them may give birth to a baby with defects caused by the infection, health officials say.
This makes women’s health a priority for agencies like March of Dimes, dedicated to helping babies with birth defects.
“Any notion that this is optional is antithetical,” Jarris said.
Seniors Can be Affected
This advice is essential for everyone, including older adults, said Dr. Oscar Alleyne, senior advisor for public health programs at the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
One may wonder why older adults should worry about a Zika infection, but the responsibility rests with them to help stop the spread of the virus.
“For the older population, the Zika virus is still an issue and we would hope they are aware of this issue as we would like them to be,” Alleyne said.