AreNovel Viruses Now the Norm? – ClaireBoettler, OPHA President
Last week I heard a story on NPR aboutthe Zika virus – a “novel” vector-borne virus that I’d never heard ofbefore. The next day I received a healthalert notification from the CDC about this same virus cautioning pregnant womento avoid traveling to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. This weekend I read an article in the localpaper about a mother in Hawaii who had been infected with the Zika virus while visitingBrazil and had subsequently given birth to a baby with microcephaly (unusuallysmall head and brain).
Zika virus is a Flavivirus transmittedby the Aedes mosquito (daytime active mosquitoes) and most often causes a mildillness known as Zika fever. Beginningin the 1950s the virus was mainly seen in a narrow equatorial belt from Africato Asia. However, in 2014 the virusbegan spreading eastward until it reached South America, Central America andthe Caribbean, and it is now considered pandemic. Most people who contract Zika fever willexperience a relatively mild illness similar to a mild form of denguefever. However, the consequences forpregnant women are not nearly so benign – infection during pregnancy can resultin the baby being born with microcephaly or in fetal death. The CDC reports not yet understanding thefull spectrum of outcomes that may be associated with infection duringpregnancy, but states that additional studies are planned to learn more aboutspecific risks. The CDC also reports that local transmission of Zika virus hasnot been documented in the continental U.S. However, the alert it issued lastweek states that imported cases may result in local spread of the virus in someareas, which could result in human-to-mosquito-to human spread.
I’m sure everyone can remember when WestNile virus was new to the U.S. and how hard it hit Ohio in the early2000s. Last year we heard about Chikungunyavirus, and now we have Zika virus to worry about. In light of the everincreasing global temperatures that are a part of climate change there arebound to be additional vector-borne viruses just waiting to be spread, givingcredence to the thought that novel viruses may indeed now be the new norm.
All of this emphasizes the critical rolethat public health vector-borne disease programs play in preventing illness inhumans. As president of OPHA I would like to commend the Ohio Department ofHealth for reinstituting its vector-borne disease programlast year. We cannot know if or whennovel viruses such as Chikungunya or Zika may reach Ohio, but having a robustvector-borne disease program at our state health department better prepares usfor such an event.
Vector-borne disease prevention ISpublic health!