By Taryn Graham
Nov. 27, 2016
While the Zika virus has caused grave concern in Florida, its impact in Tennessee so far has been minimal with the Tennessee Department of Health reporting just 56 cases this year.
But as was seen in Florida, the expectation is the number of cases will grow throughout the state this coming summer, and public health officials in the state are looking for answers.
The Shelby County Health Department has reported five cases in 2016 in the Memphis area, and it is urging pregnant women to take precautions this coming spring when the mosquitoes again become a problem.
“I’m very concerned about the Zika virus,” said 21-year-old Marquita Toney from Memphis. “I am expecting my baby in June, which means there will be many mosquitos around while I am still carrying my child”
“I don’t want my unborn child to be subjected to any type of virus of any kind,” said Toney. “I have seen the pictures of the babies born with disfigured heads, and it truly scares me.”
Of the 56 known cases of Zika virus in Tennessee almost all of them were contracted outside of the country.
“Zika virus is becoming more of a problem now for a variety of factors. Environmental reasons cause the mosquito breeding season to be longer and have increased the geographic range of the aedes mosquitos,” said Abelardo Moncayo, director of the Tennessee Department of Health Vector-Borne Diseases Program
The aedes mosquito is the species of mosquito that carries the zika virus.
Moncayo said people travelling via airplanes around the world are increasing the chances of spreading the disease into the United States.
Although it may seem as though the Zika virus is a relatively new disease, it actually has been around for a while. In fact, scientists have known about the Zika virus for seven decades. Yet, the effect it has had on the public has only increased within recent years.
Moncayo said, the Zika virus is spread by a certain type of mosquito that spreads the virus called a flavivirus which is the same family of viruses that cause yellow fever.
The Center for Disease Control reported that the Zika virus is a disease that is mainly transmitted through the bite of an infected aedes mosquito. The virus can then be passed from a pregnant woman to her child, which can later lead to a birth defect known as Guillain-Barre syndrome.
A person who carries the Zika virus has no symptoms, but the danger is that the virus can cause harm to a women’s unborn child if she was pregnant when she contracted the virus, said Vikki Nolan, associate professor of Epidemiology at The University of Memphis.
“Additionally, long term consequences of infection are still not fully understood. For these reasons, Zika is a serious concern,” said Nolan.
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a brain defect in which a child is born with an underdeveloped brain and an abnormally small head, according to the CDC. The birth defect can actually become a part of a larger symptom caused by the Zika virus.
Congenital Zika syndrome is known as the pattern of birth defects that become rampant in those who contracted the Zika virus. The birth defects include decreased brain tissue, severe micorcephaly, clubfoot, and problems developing muscles.
In most cases those who contracted the Zika virus show minor symptoms, and they resemble that of the flu. Symptoms include a high fever, rash, joint pain and conjivictis.
The Center for Disease Control reports that it takes about a week for the symptoms start to actually have an effect on the victim.
The 56 cases of Zika in the state of Tennessee are spread out between 12 different regions including Chattanooga, Knoxville and East Tennessee.
Florida has also had a fair share of Zika virus cases. In fact, one neighborhood in Miami has had hundreds of Zika cases alone, and many of those who contracted it did so in a foreign country.
There are 1,161 total cases of Zika virus in the city of Miami alone, and 228 of those cases were contracted outside of the United States.
“There are currently no vaccines, so the only preventive measures are prevention against mosquito bites. People should reduce or eliminate, if possible, the amount of standing water outside their homes to reduce breeding grounds for mosquitoes,” Nolan said.
“Larvicide can be placed in standing water that can’t be eliminated. To reduce getting bitten by a mosquito, people should wear long sleeves and long pants to remain covered. People should also wear insect repellent. Because approximately 80 percent of people who get infected with Zika are asymptomatic, it is important to take these protective measures after returning from Zika-endemic areas.”
Multi-media: Map of Zika in Tennessee