Summer is here and mosquitoes are back in our environment, along with all the diseases they can pass along to us humans. Mosquitoes suck, most of us agree, but it’s the other kind of prick you have to worry about when it comes to the spread of the new, mutagenic Zika virus right now in the United States. Why?
If your partner is one of the 1.2 million with HIV infection living in the United States, chances are you already know how important using a condom is. But did you know a man’s semen can also be loaded with Zika virus? Most of the public service announcements, like the ones I saw on the New York City subway this morning on my way to work, focus on the elusive mosquito as the prime vector of concern.
We don’t have any Zika-infected mosquitoes in the U.S. yet, although we probably will in the not too distant future. But what we do have is 819 people here with Zika virus infection, as of June 23, 2016 (up to 1,306 on July 13th’s tally). So people are the vector to think about when you want to stay safe.
Like in the case of HIV, men can spread Zika virus through sex before the man has symptoms of infection, like fever and rash, clinical evidence shows. A man who has Zika in his blood and semen can keep spreading the virus when he has sex, even after his symptoms ended. And men have passed the infection along to pregnant women which can cause birth defects in the developing baby, called congenital Zika syndrome. I wrote about what we know and don’t know when it comes to Zika in my article at Everyday Health, 10 Essential Facts About Zika Virus, earlier this year, and update it weekly with the new numbers.
Where the U.S. Zika Cases Are
Where are the U.S. Zika virus cases now? 198 of these are in New York State which has been most affected so far (where I live), with Florida a close second at 162 out of the total 819 travel-related U.S. cases (where many in my family live), and the number goes up consistently day by day. Another 1,854 people have gotten local Zika infections in U.S. territories, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tallies as of June 23, and most are in Puerto Rico. (It’s up to 2,916 as of July 13.)
The CDC’s response to Zika virus now includes not only mosquito control steps, but also advisories on how men can avoid spreading Zika to their partners during pregnancy: Don’t have sex, or use condoms. Every time.
Zika syndrome, though rare, isn’t only small head-size for newborns, known as microcephaly. It’s also a set of changes in fetal brain and nerve development that can be devastating, and fatal. In the U.S., nine babies have been born with Zika-related birth defects as of July 13. Brazil is now dealing with thousands of microcephaly case investigations related to Zika, according to their Ministry of Health. And while UN Women is taking on the Zika pandemic by focusing on women’s rights to decide when to get pregnant, in the United States, polls show our perceptions of how pregnant women can protect themselves from Zika risks as the virus spreads north are far from accurate.
What We Know About Zika Virus Control
Only 6 percent of Americans polled about Zika said that people can avoid negative health effects by using condoms or not having sex with a man who may have been exposed to Zika, in a phone survey of 1008 adults from April 28 to May 2, 2016 by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania. More, 35 percent, said people should protect against mosquito bites in order to avoid Zika-related health problems. And 27 percent just don’t know what they can do.
As lawmakers debate over President Barack Obama’s request for 1.9 billion to control mosquitoes and prevent Zika from spreading throughout the United States, there’s something we can all afford to do. It’s cheap, and if you live in New York City like I do, it’s free. Use condoms.
You might not want to put your hands in the air about it just yet, but if you’re a fertile woman and live in an area where Zika virus is making the rounds, or your lover has visited a Zika hotspot like Puerto Rico recently, let’s take a cue from hip hop.
I say, “Zika?” You say, “Condom!
It can protect a pregnant woman from picking up a Zika infection that could harm her developing fetus, and our next generation will thank us for it.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sophia Rodriguez
3 responses to “Zika: The STD We Aren’t Thinking About Yet”
Will people ever learn that it’s not always the bugs fault? Yes the bite stings and they’re annoying but that doesn’t mean they’re the sole cause of some decease. I’m not pro-skeeter, I’m as annoyed by them as anyone else. The reality is that while a virus or disease may start with them eventually it mutates (some do) making humans the transmitters.
It’s true, at first people thought it came from infected mosquitoes only, but more and more cases are reported of people getting Zika when it was only their intimate partner who had traveled and been exposed. Thanks for reading, Karen!
I didn’t know much about the Zika, so thanks for sharing this post. I thought you could only get it from a skeeter. Now I know!