JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: When I first heard the word Zika earlier this summer, I thought it was another attempt at a terrible malt beverage. Of course, as we've all learned since then, it's something WORSE than Zima (which means it's really bad.)
As often happens, the disease had a long history behind it before coming to the attention of the American press. Discovered in 1947 in the Ziika forest preserve in Uganda, the virus waited five years to jump from monkeys and mosquitoes to humans. It wasn't until 1964 that the virus was proven to cause illness in humans - by David Simpson, a Zika researcher in Uganda who fell sick himself. Simpson and others drew the conclusion that the virus was similar to dengue fever and chikungunya - both spread by mosquitoes - but was far milder.
For some forty years, the virus remained a blank on the world health stage. Aedes africanus mosquitoes carrying the virus spread throughout Africa and into Asia and the Indian subcontinent, but reports of humans being infected were vanishingly rare. Then, in 2007, the first widespread outbreak showed up in the Micronesian island of Yap, a culturally fascinating state well worth a visit, which may be why and Aedes africanus mosquito hitched a plane ride there. There were only 49 confirmed cases of "Zika fever" (which sounds like a song by the Bee Gees), but that was three and a half times as many cases as had been reported in the previous 43 years. Zika was on its way to the cover of TIME magazine.
The next outbreak was in 2013-2014, as the virus spread from Asia into the Oceania states of French Polynesia, Cooks Island, Easter Island and New Caldonia. 8,723 cases were reported, and alarmed researchers began to seriously study the disease, which led to the first identification of the virus with microcephaly, autoimmune problems, and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
21st century humans travel widely, and the virus traveled with us, from the Pacific to the Americas. Epidemiologists think the Zika virus was spreading throughout Brazil for a full year while doctors struggled to identify over 7,000 cases of a mystery illness that caused fever, aching joints, and a rash. Once discovered to be Zika fever, Brazilian and WHO scientists began wide-spread blood testing, revealing the alarming fact that only some 20% of Zika-infected patients have any symptoms at all. Since 2013, the virus has spread throughout South America, with Brazil as its centerpoint.
What's scary, as an American, is the realization that we still probably wouldn't have heard much about Zika fever is it weren't for the publicity surrounding the Rio Olympics. Even having the warning from South America, it's been startling how quickly Zika has appeared on the United State's radar - and how the news about it keeps going from bad to worse. In the past month alone, researchers have discovered the first case of Zika transmitted sexually by a man with no symptoms. The FDA has recommended testing for all blood donated in the US. Brazilian doctors have shown the virus can live on in many more areas of the infant brain that suspected, and may continue to eventually affect children born without any symptoms. The first case of an adult suffering from a Zika-induced neurological condition has been confirmed, and scientists experimenting with mice have found ominous suggestions that Zika may target stem cells in adult brains vital to learning and memory. And the CDC has issued its first ever travel alert within the United States, warning pregnant women to avoid certain areas in Miami-Dade county.
Reds, what is your take on this rapidly developing outbreak? Are you scared? And what if anything do you do about it?
LUCY BURDETTE: This is a devastating disease--heartbreaking for so many families. We read about it in the New York Times the day before our pregnant daughter told us she and her husband were going to South America for a last pre-baby hurrah. Luckily, they changed their plans after recovering from the disappointment. I'm afraid we'll be facing lots more cases of this in Florida this year too...
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Zika is terrifying. We're in big mosquito territory. I can't imagine the heartbreak of the mothers with Zika babies, and I suspect it will be years before we know the effects on adults.
We have discovered something helpful for mosquitoes on a small scale (your own yard/garden) basis. It's called Terminix All Clear Mosquito Bait and Kill. It's a garlic oil and sugar spray that you put on non-porous surface and the underside of foliage. The sugar attracts the female mosquitoes and the garlic oil kills them. It's not harmful to insects or pets, and it's cheap. The directions say it works for a month--we've found it closer to two weeks, but still... The downside is that it's NOT fun to spray. Oh, and you can order it on Amazon, and some Lowe's stores carry it.
HALLIE EPHRON: Zika sounds devastating. Insidious, really. Those poor families and the little ones that are affected. Heartbreaking. I think we'll be getting a lot more illnesses like it, courtesy of global warming.
We've had a blessedly mosquito-free season here. Courtesy of the drought in Massachusetts. No standing water for them to breed in. Not much of a silver lining when you look at the dried up brooks and streams. Also courtesy of global warming.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It's so disturbing that real life science is such fodder for science fiction. I mean--if aliens wanted to decimate our population, what better way? And yes, I was talking to a doctor about this, and he was intrigued about how long it's been around, but how, semi-suddenly it's so virulent. I was shocked at how many young women athletes went to the Olympics--and what a tough decision that might have been. Our reporter who was assigned, even, is in her late 20's. I wonder what I would have done at that age with that assignment.
JULIA: How about you, dear readers? Are you concerned? Unworried? Are you taking anti-mosquito measures in your own backyard?