By Army Capt. Keith L. Marshall, Jr.May 31, 2016
Most people have probably heard or read reports in the news recently regarding the Zika virus and may have genuine health safety concerns for themselves and their loved ones. To understand the potential threat for those of us here in Europe, we must first understand some important facts about the Zika virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Zika virus infections have primarily affected people living in Central and South America, the Pacific Islands, and parts of Africa. The principle vector (transmitter) of Zika virus to people is through the bite of an infected Aedes species of mosquito. The yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti (Ae. aegypti), and the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus (Ae. albopictus), have been implicated in outbreaks of Zika virus infections. This is an important distinction because the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control states that only one vector (Ae. albopictus) has been identified in the European Union.
The risk for transmission of Zika virus in the EU during the winter months is extremely low due to unsuitable conditions for the Ae. albopictus mosquito. During warmer months, however, when these mosquitoes are active and feeding, the possibility for transmission of the virus is increased if the mosquito happens to get a blood meal by biting a viremic (infected) traveler and then bites an uninfected person and passes the virus along.
Approximately 80 percent of humans infected with the Zika virus are asymptomatic and show no obvious signs or symptoms of the disease. Signs of disease, for those who do develop them, usually begin 2-7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and irritated, red eyes. Other symptoms might include muscle pain, headache, pain behind the eyes, and vomiting. Many times, symptoms are mild and the infection may go unrecognized or be misdiagnosed as some other more common illness. Currently, no vaccines are available to prevent the disease and there are no specific medications to treat Zika virus infections. Most infected individuals fully recover without severe complications, and hospitalization rates are typically low, with medical treatment directed towards alleviating the symptoms exhibited by the infected patient.
An association has been made between Zika virus infections and two serious conditions, microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Microcephaly is a birth defect characterized by an abnormally small head and often brain damage, presumably caused by virus infection of the pregnant mother. The CDC believes Guillain--Barré syndrome is likely triggered by the Zika virus in a small proportion of infections. GBS is a rapid-onset muscle weakness resulting from damage to nerves and is often preceded by an infectious illness, such as that caused by a virus.
The CDC has issued a Level 2 Travel Alert recommending that travelers visiting countries where the Zika virus is currently found should be aware and take appropriate precautions. Pregnant women, and women planning to become pregnant who intend to travel to affected areas, should discuss their travel plans and evaluate the risk with their healthcare providers, and possibly consider postponing their travel. Travelers who visit these countries should protect themselves against mosquito bites, both indoors and outdoors, especially during early morning and evening hours when Aedes mosquitoes are most active and biting. Protective measures include:
• Wearing protective clothing (long sleeves and pants treated with permethrin, if possible)
• Using insect repellents containing DEET on exposed skin
• Ensuring windows have properly fitted screens
• Eliminating all sources of standing or stagnant water around your area (e.g., tires, empty flower pots, puddles and ponds)
Pet owners may have concerns about the Zika virus infecting their animals; however, at this time there is no evidence that Zika virus can be transmitted to domestic animals (e.g., dogs, cats, horses) or that domestic animals develop any signs of disease. No diagnostic test exists for domestic animals at this time, but similar to humans, there is no treatment or vaccine available, either.
To protect your pets from mosquito bites, the best advice is to reduce exposure to mosquitoes around your home. This includes physical protective measures like installing screens on windows, keeping your pets inside at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active, and eliminating standing water around the yard.
The use of insect repellents for humans is recommended, however you should not use it on your pet. Many insect repellants contain chemicals like DEET, and may be toxic or cause skin irritation if used on your pet. Because pets will often lick their fur, they could potentially ingest the chemicals which could cause vomiting, tremors, and even seizures. A better alternative to these products is to use those formulated specifically for different breeds of animals, some providing up to month-long protection. These insecticides do not contain DEET and repel both mosquitoes and ticks. Please consult your family veterinarian for more information.
Further information on Zika virus in the U.S. and Europe can be found on the following websites:
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/
• World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/
• European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control: http://ecdc.europa.eu/en/healthtopics/zika_virus_infection/
• Armed Forces Pest Management Board: http://www.afpmb.org/
• Military Health System: http://www.health.mil/zika
Questions or concerns can be emailed to the Public Health Command Europe Entomology staff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions or concerns about Zika virus affecting your pet's health can be emailed to Public Health Command Europe Veterinary Services at email@example.com.