Ready or Not, Zika Has Arrived
We may have believed we had more time to prepare. Health officials and Congress had discussed allocating funds for research and planning, but Zika seemed so far away. The Presidential election, the Olympics, gun control, a sudden surge in violence, even the summer's hottest heat wave on record... all seemed of a greater urgency than a poorly understood virus that caused microcephaly. The disease could wait.
But, suddenly, it was here. Uninvited. In our own backyard, in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Four cases said to be of "native" transmission. That means, one of our citizens possibly had it first, not the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes were simply doing what they do best, transmitting the disease from host to host. Within a few days, four cases became fourteen, and panic began to set in. A few small businesses in Miami closed their doors. Phones in clinics and offices began ringing off the hooks as people realized what nurses knew across the country: we weren't prepared. We were looking the other way.
Ready or not, Zika is here. Viral disease waits for no one-especially a disease where the "food" is human. Mosquitoes were merely utilizing us to move the virus around. We needed to be prepared, and we might have started a little late with this one.
Several cities had begun sending out information, especially those with hot, humid environments (where mosquitoes would naturally breed). I particularly liked the message posted by Houston public official Dr. David Persse, who has encouraged a common sense approach to fighting Zika. Although he describes his anxiety level as a "7" on a scale of zero to 10, he cautions the public about getting too crazy, and he encourages city employees to fight Zika through a 3-D approach: drain, dress and DEET.
Drain all unnecessary areas of standing water, such as kiddie pools or old tires in yards. Dress with light cotton or linen long sleeves, socks, and long pants when possible. Apply an insect repellant with DEET to exposed areas of skin. Limit exposure outside if possible, especially on hot, muggy days.
Zika will most likely move to other areas of the country. I believe it would be unreasonable to assume it can be contained to the two zip codes in Florida where it has been detected. As a global society, the virus is on the move. Nearly 80% of adults who have tested positive for the virus have been asymptomatic. The most frightening nature of the disease is the damage left in its wake to the unborn, as seen in Puerto Rico.
Hope is finally on the horizon. A vaccine is in the works, and human trials are starting. After a delayed start, let's hope aggressive action is taken to conquer Zika as it hits our backyard. Although it's easy to say utilize a 3-D approach (drain, dress, DEET), that approach is much, much harder for vulnerable communities and individuals without appropriate resources: air conditioning, housing, funding, and use of contraceptives. Zika has been determined to be passed via sexual contact, so temporary precautions are important. That's where my anxiety stays higher than a "7," because assertive action is needed the most.