Officials are sharing scary new concerns about the Zika virus
This time last year, most of us had never heard of the Zika virus. Now, the illness has been documented in 42 different countries, and every day the outbreak seems to reach new areas. Yesterday, officials from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health met with reporters at the White House to share news none of us want to hear: the Zika virus is way worse than anyone thought.
According to NBC News, yesterday’s press conference was a push for congress to approve $1.9 billion in emergency funding to help develop better vaccines and treatment for the Zika virus. During the event, Dr. Anne Schuchat, the Deputy Director of the CDC, told reporters that further research into the virus has only made officials more concerned. “Most of what we’ve learned isn’t very reassuring,” she said. “Everything we know about this virus seems to be scarier than we initially thought.”
Dr. Tony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, also chimed in saying, “Everything we see is bad. Every week. Every month it tends to surprise us. There was no reason to think that it would be this bad.”
So, what’s got everyone so worried?
Well, just hours before the press conference, ABC reports two studies were released that show the virus attacks and kills developing brain cells in fetuses, and that it can cause nerve damage resembling multiple sclerosis in adults. Researchers already knew the virus was dangerous for developing fetuses, but this latest evidence shows it’s a bigger threat for people of all ages than anyone realized.
Making things even worse is the huge number of people contracting the virus. The virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is native to several countries all over the world, including most of North America, except Canada and Chile. Schuchat says Zika could infect anywhere from 25 to 80 percent of the population as it moves across the globe, and it’s difficult to predict how many pregnant women who become infected will go on to have babies with severe birth defects.
Schuchat actually held a live Zika virus question and answer session with Scary Mommy in February, and for now, everything she said still stands: the main group of concern is pregnant women and babies, pregnant women who’ve traveled to affected areas should get tested for the virus, and protecting yourself from mosquitos is still the best method of prevention. The main difference now is that prevention is more important than ever for people from all age groups.
This whole Zika outbreak sort of feels like a bad dream, and certainly none of us want to hear that it’s “scarier” than researchers initially thought. We shouldn’t panic, but we also don’t want to dismiss what health officials are saying. As much as we don’t like to think about it, none of us are immune to Zika, and researchers are still discovering all the damage it can do. As with most things, education and prevention are our best defense. For more tips on how to stay safe from Zika, you can talk to your doctor or check out the CDC website.