CT Senator Calls for Increased Funding for Research of the Zika Virus

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By Angela Barbosa

On January 29, at the Spanish American Merchants Association in Hartford, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Acting Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) Commissioner Dr. Raul Pino, medical experts and leaders of Connecticut’s Latino community called for robust funding and a comprehensive public health response to address the Zika epidemic spreading throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

A recent strain of the mosquito-borne virus has been associated with severe birth defects, and cases are now being reported in the United States, including less than a dozen in Puerto Rico but thousands in Brazil. The virus is expected to spread across the United States as temperatures warm.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a travel alert, warning pregnant women to avoid traveling to 24 countries and territories where the Zika virus is spreading, including Brazil and Puerto Rico.

“The Zika epidemic is an exploding public health crisis that experts seem unable to comprehend or control. Fortunately, many who are infected suffer only mild symptoms, but for many pregnant women, the consequences of this virus have been catastrophic, causing severe, life-long birth defects in thousands of children. An immediate all hands on deck response is needed, with robust funding to expedite research into a vaccine, testing and measures to slow the spread of this alarming virus,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal also wrote a letter  to President Obama to urge that he request increased funding in his Fiscal Year 2017 Budget for global public health and maternal and child health to combat the recent outbreak of the Zika virus. Although the virus causes mild symptoms in general cases — such as fever, conjunctivitis and headaches — it poses added danger to pregnant women, especially during the first trimester when some women may be unaware of their pregnancy.

Blumenthal wrote: “More than 4,000 cases of microcephaly and birth deformities in infants in Brazil have been linked to the outbreak of the Zika virus. With no vaccine, treatment, or widely accessible diagnostic test, many Latin American countries — such as Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and Honduras — have simply urged women to postpone pregnancy,” adding, “Within our own borders, a dozen Americans have been infected with Zika after visiting countries who experienced a viral outbreak. Research into developing a Zika virus vaccine, diagnostic tests, and treatments must be implemented as a part of an effective strategy to end this harmful epidemic and protect Americans traveling abroad. Furthermore, the United States must continue aid to women in countries where access to public health information and voluntary family planning services are inadequate.”

“We are working with the Ministry of Health in Brazil and other international public health partners to investigate an unexpected increase in the number of babies being born with microcephaly to mothers who were infected with Zika virus during their pregnancy,” said Lyle R. Petersen, MD, MPH – Director, Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, for the CDC.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health has asked health care providers to report suspected cases of Zika virus to state and local health officials.

No cases of the disease have been reported in Connecticut, according to DPH. A case was confirmed in Puerto Rico in December, and cases have been reported in travelers, but the virus has not been transmitted elsewhere in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“All people, especially pregnant women, who are traveling to areas where Zika virus is found, should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites to reduce their risk of infection of Zika virus as well as other mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue and chikungunya,” Dr. Raul Pino, acting DPH commissioner, said in a statement.

He urged people who have traveled to areas with Zika activity to get medical care if they have a fever and symptoms of the infection, which include a rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis.

The mosquitoes that typically spread Zika virus are not found in Connecticut, state officials said.

“Closely related species are present in very low numbers and are unlikely to present a risk of Zika virus infection to people,” Dr. Phil Armstrong, medical entomologist with the Center for Vector Biology & Zoonotic Diseases at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, said in a statement. “If the virus spreads to the United States mainland it will most likely be identified first in Florida or the gulf states.”

What To Do?

The CDC recommends that people traveling to areas affected by Zika virus use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants and stay in air-conditioned areas or places with screens on windows and doors.

Zika Travel advisory:

  • Zika Virus in Cape Verde
  • Zika Virus in the Caribbean
    Currently includes: Barbados; Curaçao; Dominican Republic; Guadeloupe; Haiti; Jamaica; Martinique; the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory; Saint Martin; U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Zika Virus in Central America
    Currently includes: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama
  • Zika Virus in Mexico
  • Zika Virus in the Pacific Islands
    Currently includes: American Samoa, Samoa, Tonga
  • Zika Virus in South America
    Currently includes: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela

How is Zika transmitted?

Through mosquito bites

The Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (A. aegypti and A. albopictus). These are the same mosquitoes that spread the dengue and chikungunya viruses.

These mosquitoes typically lay eggs in and near standing water in things like buckets, bowls, animal dishes, flower pots and vases. They prefer to bite people, and live indoors and outdoors near people.

Mosquitoes that spread chikungunya, dengue and Zika are aggressive daytime biters. They can also bite at night.

Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites.

Rarely, from mother to child

A mother already infected with Zika virus near the time of delivery can pass on the virus to her newborn around the time of birth, but this is rare.

It is possible that Zika virus could be passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy.

Through infected blood or sexual contact

Spread of the virus through blood transfusion and sexual contact has been reported.

What are the symptoms of Zika?

About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika will get sick. For people who get sick, the illness is usually mild. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.

The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Symptoms typically begin 2 to 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

The symptoms of Zika are similar to those of dengue and chikungunya, diseases spread through the same mosquitoes that transmit Zika.

See your healthcare provider if you develop the symptoms described above and have visited an area where Zika is found.

If you have recently traveled, tell your healthcare provider when and where you traveled.

Your healthcare provider may order specialized blood tests to look for Zika or other similar viruses like dengue or chikungunya.

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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