Health Center News

An Update on the Zika Virus

zikaThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting that the number of women in U.S. who have been infected with the Zika virus during their pregnancies has reached 234. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). There is also evidence that the virus can cause an autoimmune disorder called Guillain-Barre. But it is Zika’s link to  poor pregnancy outcomes, such birth defects and microcephaly, that has alarmed federal health officials. The CDC has started to collect information on pregnant women affected by the virus to better track pregnancy outcomes. The Zika virus disease is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito [see CDC fact sheet], but can also be spread through sexual contact

No locally acquired mosquito-borne cases of Zika have been reported so far, but there have been 755 travel associated cases reported in the U.S., and there is evidence the virus can be spread through sexual contact. With the summer travel season underway, the CDC also has advice about  what to pack to protect oneself against Zika if you are visiting an area where the virus is active. With recent outbreaks overseas, the number of Zika cases among travelers is likely to increase and could possibly trigger the spread of the virus in some parts of the U.S.  There is also growing concern about the rapid increase of Zika in Puerto Rico, putting women of child-bearing age at risk. Public health officials in states where the virus can be spread by mosquito are already ramping up efforts to protect and educate the public, despite funding challenges, particularly in states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid, such as Florida and Texas. “Those decisions, many advocates say, are putting a squeeze on the health care system’s ability to educate women about Zika’s risks and minimize its impact,” according to an article in Kaiser Health News.   

As Health Centers on the Hill reported earlier, Congress is hammering out a measure to fund efforts to fight Zika — but progress is slow. The Obama administration has requested $1.9 billion in emergency Zika funding. The Senate approved $1.1 billion of that request, but the House of Representatives voted to allocate $622.1 million financed through cuts to existing programs, such as for Ebola.