Monday the World Health Organization officially declared the spread of the Zika virus an “international emergency” and Texas officials have so far confirmed six cases of the infection within the state. In all those cases, the person contracted Zika while traveling abroad.
Symptoms of the mosquito-borne virus are typically mild: fever and a rash. But it’s linked to birth defects, which have folks most worried.
Rodney Rohde, professor at Texas State University, says there are five main things we need to know about the Zika virus.
1. What is it, and where did it come from?
“It first appeared … was studied back in the ’40s and early ’50s. It kind of came out of the Western Pacific area and it’s known to circulate in Africa and Southeast Asia.”
2. How is it spread?
“Primarily it’s spread by mosquitos. … The kind of difference about these mosquitos is that they’re day-time biters, which is not always the case for some types of mosquitos. … Usually if you’re staying inside in air-conditioned, enclosed houses, you’re relatively safe.”
3. When did it first arrive in Texas?
“It actually showed up in Houston on January 11, 2016, with an imported case. Then several other cases … primarily have shown up as imported cases.”
4. What about the link between Zika and birth defects?
“The main reason people most are really worried about this – and it is a concern – we should all be paying attention and watching this. But for the record, as of today, there is no causal, no causation evidence that Zika virus causes birth defects.
“However, there is strong circumstantial evidence surrounding correlation with the disease, especially in places like Brazil and other areas around that. So those studies are being undertaken. There are people looking at that and they’re trying to find a pattern to try and see if there is causation.”
5. How concerned should Texans be of contracting the virus here, or worried about traveling to the most impacted countries while pregnant?
“Texans, and even other people along the southern borders of the United States, should definitely be aware of it. I don’t think that there should be panic or hysterics. … It’s a common type of event, certainly it’s kind of a brand-new-looking virus even though it’s been around for 50 or 60 years. But it’s the first time it may show up in Texas.
“People should be aware of where they’re traveling. They should visit with their physician and make a plan. If they’re pregnant, or planning on becoming pregnant, they may want to avoid the area just for obvious concern. If you’re protecting yourself, staying indoors most of the time, using mosquito evasive techniques such as approved repellants and things like that, you should be fine.”