Yes, the Zika virus is new and somewhat mysterious. Yes, it seems to be working its way through the Americas. Yes, a case was reported in Indiana this week.
But no, the average Hoosier who isn’t newly pregnant or traveling to countries with Zika outbreaks should not get too panicky, says UIndy’s resident epidemiologist, Dr. Amie Wojtyna.
Although the mosquito-borne virus is “hot and trendy,” she says, U.S. residents should be far more concerned about common threats such as influenza, which kills thousands of Americans every year.
Wojtyna served as a surveillance epidemiologist for both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Indiana State Department of Health before taking her current post as assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in Public Health.
What we do know about Zika is that it is carried by Aedes mosquitos, which also carry dengue fever and yellow fever, and the virus may well get into our mosquito population at some point. However, just as those illnesses have never gained a solid foothold in North America, the same should be true of Zika, Wojtyna says.
“Our intervention and prevention methods make that unlikely,” she says, acknowledging that there is not yet any cure or vaccine. “The best prevention we have is to keep mosquitos away.”
Most county health departments take measures to reduce mosquito populations. For individuals, the most basic protection is to cover exposed skin and use an effective mosquito repellent, and the CDC offers more tips and information at this link.
Most adults exposed to Zika never show symptoms, and when they do, the illness usually passes after a few days of fever, aches, rashes and eye infections.
The concern has arisen because Zika seems to have spread quickly in South and Central America, where it has been associated with microcephaly and other problems in children whose mothers were exposed to the virus. Although outbreaks have not yet been reported in any countries where UIndy students or faculty are scheduled to travel, the International Division office is monitoring the situation and will advise travelers about the risks.