Zika Outbreak Raises Concerns, CDC Confident Treatment Will Improve

More stories from Sahana Parker

With concern leading up to the recently-ended Rio Olympics and outbreaks all over the world, the Zika virus has heightened fears.
The disease has slowly grown into a global epidemic in the past decade, and there are now more than 50 reported cases in Georgia. There is currently no vaccine or treatment.
“There is a risk of Zika outbreaking [in Georgia] if people aren’t careful,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employee Alison Amaroso said. Amaroso specializes in global immunization, and she has researched rubella with the CDC, a disease with many similarities to Zika. “The government needs to put in appropriate mosquito control—wherever there’s not sufficient public health action and mosquito control, it will spread.”
Zika is mainly carried by the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, which thrive in tropical and subtropical climates. Both species have been found in the United States. After being bitten, the disease remains in the bloodstream for a week after infection and believed to remain present in urine for two. It can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse.
“I think the idea that there are bugs out there that can do you harm is kind of unnerving,” AP World History teacher, Sara Looman said. “I think we have a tendency in our modern culture, since we are so far removed from nature, especially in the urban setting, we go, ‘bugs can’t do a lot of damage to us.’ Nature’s powerful, and we don’t always have control.”
Up to a two-week incubation period occurs after infection; some people do not get symptoms at all, while others have mild, flu-like symptoms such as fever, rash, and joint pain. A rare few develop Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition that may result in short-term paralysis. The most alarming result of the virus, however, is its effect on the fetus. Pregnant women who are infected can give birth to babies with microcephaly, a birth defect that causes children to be born with abnormally small heads, brains and possibly shorter life expectancies.
Amaroso worries that people will unknowingly cause this defect in their future children due to not being properly informed about sexual transmission.
“There is a lot of focus on pregnant women, and not how men and boys can also carry the disease,” Amaroso said. “A huge amount of pregnancies are unplanned; the risk is even greater before you even know you’re pregnant. Local governments should provide contraception, and you shouldn’t put yourself in the position where you could [knowingly] spread it this way.”
According to the CDC, Georgia has been given about $565,000 to combat the spread of Zika. Other than that, however, no notable measures against it have been taken. In Miami, the government is mainly relying on aerial applications of insecticide to eradicate infected mosquitoes. This practice is being used worldwide but raises controversy as people question the negative effects of the chemical sprayings.
“I think it’s worth it to spray,” Amaroso said. “The CDC and other health organizations have long-proven that it is. Spraying has worked all over the world, and they are pretty sophisticated now on which chemicals are used and the amounts of each. It takes chemicals to clean our water, and provide our air conditioning; we don’t live in a chemically-free world, it’s just managing it that is the problem.”
Much of the workings of the disease currently remain a mystery to world health organizations, from how quickly it takes for a person to be infected to the likelihood of a baby being born with its effects. The long-term consequences for children who have been infected after birth are also unknown, although so far doctors have reported that adults have been reported more likely than children to develop Guillain-Barre syndrome. The CDC and other health organizations continue to research the virus and experiment with more ways to combat its spread.
According to Amaroso, the CDC is confident in its abilities to formulate a vaccine after having experience with many diseases similar to Zika. Preliminary trials have already showed positive results in their treatments. However, they warn that even after a cure is developed, it will be a long process to bring the disease under control. The importance of government funding, educating the public and surveillance of areas for infected mosquitos or signs of the disease is highlighted.
Even though the CDC seems confident in developing a vaccine, one Grady teacher expressed concern in Zika’s longevity, and its potential to lead to serious consequences.
“It’s interesting how this is the disease of the month,” debate coach and teacher Mario Herrera said. “Think about malaria, dengue fever, we’re not talking about that because it doesn’t lead to the same results in children…this is not just a summer of ’16 thing, it’s not going to go away. And unfortunately, there will be people who are emotionally and physically harmed by this situation.”