By Vassilis Ragoussis
I’m sure most of you have read or at least heard about the Zika virus outbreak that has occurred. There has been an explosion of information on social media and news websites that has been alarming, and what I can say, somewhat terrifying.
This panic was certainly an exacerbation due to the reactive nature we have towards diseases. We scramble beneath the terror of colossal headlines.
“Zika Virus ‘Spreading Explosively’ in Americas, W.H.O. Says”
“Zika virus: Up to 4 million cases predicted”
Let’s look closer at the statistics. In Brazil, there has been an increase from 150 normal cases of microcephaly, to 4,000 cases. Out of the 3 million baby births the risk comes out to a miniscule 0.0013%. Additionally, Nature found that only 270 of the Brazil cases have actually been confirmed as microcephaly, with 462 cases being false diagnoses.
In 2014, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa had the whole world waiting for their impending doom. Government leaders, the public and news media alike demanded clarifications and denounced that not enough was being done. The same is now occurring with Zika.
How did this panic happen?
Do we not learn from previous outbreaks? Having a comprehensive plan to fight against microbial diseases by being proactive and focusing on prevention will certainly give better outcomes in the future.
Aedes aegypti is the mosquito to blame. It is currently thriving in large numbers close to human residences. With the increase in human waste and plastic containers there are ample places for rainfall to collect and create breeding areas for Aedes to lay its eggs and multiply.
Mosquitos are vectors of the disease. Controlling the vector will control the disease. In America its close cousin, Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito spans over 30 states. For now, this species is not a major player in the transmission of Zika to humans, but what if it did? Then we could face the risk of a serious outbreak.
For me, the logical solution would be managing the vector. Reducing its habitat, removing human waste and places it could live would automatically reduce its ability to breed. Chemically or biologically we can take measures to reduce and control the mosquito population and hence the burden of disease that it can inflict.
Fortunately, the symptoms of Zika are absent to mild for the vast majority. However, there can be some devastating implications if infected. The incidence of microcephaly has increased; this is where babies experience small head growth and resultant brain damage. Zika can also lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can cause paralysis. Nevertheless, we need more data and ultimately more time to research and confirm this causation.
The Zika virus should not have been the complication to remind us how destructive mosquitos can be. The Dengue virus along with Malaria, although not directly prevalent and disastrous in America, have caused worldwide epidemics and caused millions of deaths.
We should have prepared, or even anticipated that something like this would happen.
Efforts of controlling vector transmission will significantly reduce, but not eliminate the risk of Zika. Wearing protective clothing, net beds, using EPA-registered insect repellents are measures we can take to protect ourselves from mosquitos. The next step would be to develop a vaccine. For this, we need time, and of course, more research.
Going back to the original question posed.
How did this panic happen?
New risks freak us out more than the ones we’re familiar with. As a culture we are more troubled about dangers to babies than adults. With Zika we are clouded by a sense of inadequacy. The general uncertainty we have about the nature of Zika coupled with no present vaccine, leaves us feeling powerless. As creatures, we readily adopt a fatalistic notion and place too much emphasis on the worst-case possibilities of any threat. Although in some cases this is reasonable, we also are equally cautious of excessive fear.
We should have anticipated the large increase in mosquitos that would create a major health crisis. We need to foresee that pandemics will occur, we can certainly prepare in advance to minimize the severity and the spread. Acting now and focusing on prevention needs to be our game plan.
As humans, we must be both rational and intelligent, reacting to crises with the right amount of emotion and investigation will help us remain safe in the future.
Tavernise, Sabrina. “Zika Virus ‘Spreading Explosively’ in Americas, W.H.O. Says.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
“5 Things You Really Need to Know About Zika.” Public Health Matters Blog. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
Nature.com. Nature Publishing Group. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
“Zika Virus.” World Health Organization. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
“Zika Virus: Three Britons Infected, Say Health Officials – BBC News.” BBC News. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
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