Americans are learning that the reality of a new health threat is apparently much worse than officials earlier suggested: The mosquito-borne Zika virus, identified as the culprit in a growing number of babies born with birth defects in Latin America, is now a distinct threat in a majority of American states, and that Puerto Rico, in particular, could see upwards of hundreds of thousands of infections.
Dr. Anne Schuchat of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently sounded the alarm, saying, in part, “Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought. And so while we absolutely hope we don't see widespread local transmission in the continental U.S., we need the states to be ready for that."
Schuchat was part of a recent White House briefing on the threat by top health officials, who implored Congress to act more quickly on the Obama Administration’s February request for nearly $2 billion in emergency funding for preparedness against Zika.
According to Schuchat, the species of mosquito that transmits the virus, Aedes aegypti, was recently identified as being present in about 30 states, considerably more than previously thought. Residents of Puerto Rico are considered to be especially vulnerable, given that commonwealth’s proximity to the areas in Latin America and the Caribbean that have essentially been “ground zero” for the Zika threat.
In addition to the wider swath of geography now considered under pressure by Zika, health officials also said that a greater number of physical ailments may be attributable to it. They referenced the possibility that more birth defects, beyond the microcephaly that has been previously identified as the singular threat posed by Zika transmission, could be blamed on the virus, and that even adults could be subject to serious, neurological diseases because of Zika, which is something that was either unstated or significantly understated by health officials previously.
A vaccine against Zika is expected to enter clinical trials in September.
By Robert G. Yetman, Jr. Editor At Large