Zika virus causing a local health buzz

By Jessica Wang

In light of what has been described as a public health emergency facing many countries, President Barack Obama will ask Congress for more than $1.8 billion to aid in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus in the United States.

The announcement comes at the heels of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent public health alert for travel to areas where Zika has been prevalent, such as Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and, as of May 2015, Brazil.

The Zika virus is a disease transmitted through mosquito bites. It stems from Aedes aegypti mosquitos, which are generally found in tropical and subtropical regions but have recently been present in parts of the Southern United States.

Initially discovered in Uganda in 1947, the virus has been described as fairly innocuous with symptoms that include fever, body ache, red rash or red eyes. These symptoms generally last between three to four days, sometimes a week.

There is currently no treatment but managing care similar to that of a severe cold: bed rest and plenty of fluids. Vaccines are still being explored and researched.

According to Dr. Timothy Moody, a physician at Student Health and Counseling Services, most people who succumb to the virus experience no symptoms at all.

Nonetheless, the Zika virus has proven itself a possible threat to pregnant women within regions where the disease has been prevalent.

“Infection with the virus has been associated with complication of a birth defect called microcephaly and also with a neurological illness called Guillain-Barre syndrome,” said Moody. “[With Guillain-Barre syndrome,] something happens to the nerve that operate your muscles [and causes] paralysis of the muscles.”

Microcephaly, on the other hand, is a birth defect that pertains to the abnormal smallness of an infant’s head, which has been linked to poor brain development.

While there has been no definitive research that connects these infant deformities with the virus, a heavy correlation still exists.

According to the World Health Organization’s website, Brazilian health officials have cited an increase in Guillain-Barre syndrome and microcephaly in the northeastern region of their country.

While the possibility of contracting the virus in the United States is rare, there have been a series of outbreaks in the United States that have occurred in individuals who became infected through sexual contact while traveling to areas heavily afflicted by the Zika virus. The latest case was reported in Texas.

Moody reiterated that while an outbreak could be possible, it would be limited due to accessible resources such as air conditioning and adequate home screening, which is not as prevalent in areas of Brazil and Central America.

Moody offered insights on Obama’s emergency funding proposal, which is primarily geared towards protecting pregnant women in low-income communities.

“He’s thinking of people living in situations without screening or air conditioning that could be more vulnerable,” said Moody. “Or homeless populations that make them more at risk of being bitten ” socioeconomic status and whether they have access to health care or good prenatal care.”

Douglas Durrant, assistant professor at CPP’s Department of Biological Sciences, offered insights on a virus that is not necessarily new, but has nevertheless grown in prominence.

“It’s the things we don’t know: we don’t know if the virus can cross the placental barrier or the stage of development [in which deformity occurs],” said Durrant. “It’s that we don’t know enough, [and] that’s why it can be frightening.”

Durrant reiterated that the virus should not be a cause of alarm for young, healthy populations equipped with sufficient immune systems to combat the virus and that the seemingly sudden frenzy is linked mostly to the uncertainty of these birth defects.

Durrant has recently started a Science on Tap lecture series on campus, which seeks to build relationships between the campus community and experts so that people can ask questions they normally would not have the opportunity to ask.

“The goal is to let the community know that research is being accomplished here at their local university,” said Durrant. “And if they are interested, they may seek avenues to partake in the research that we conduct here at Cal Poly Pomona.”

Durrant’s research has been rooted in West Nile virus, which is closely related to the Zika virus.

Science on Tap seeks to encourage scientific discussion in a relaxed environment over drinks.

The first Science on Tap series will focus on mosquito-born diseases and will be held at Innovation Brew Works, CPP’s award-winning brewery on Temple Avenue. The event, which will feature discussion and Q-and-A session with Durrant, will take place on Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Zika virus

Sungah Choi / The Poly Post

Zika virus

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