We have all heard about Zika and the harm that will be done if this virus reaches threshold infection levels. Because of the upcoming winter months, its spread is inhibited. However, accompanying the inevitable return of spring and summer, the CDC has stated that Zika will become a catastrophic health problem; it will most likely eventually become an issue here, in the Northeast.
Zika may go unnoticed in some members of the population; Symptoms include malaise, pain in the back of the eyes, joints, and muscles. Complementing the illness are fevers and chills. The main concern is that if a pregnant woman acquires the disease, her baby will most probably develop microcephaly. Microcephaly is a lifelong condition that causes persistent cognitive and intellectual disability, poor motor function, compromised speech function, and observable physical deformities.
Ways to combat this illness are in the process of being created. Oxitec’s (Oxitec is a company that is comprised of Oxford scientists and professors) solution seems to be the most promising and has been discussed by Congress and the Florida state legislature. Oxitec’s solution is to create genetically modified male mosquitoes and release them into problem areas. Oxitec’s genetically modified mosquitoes, designated OX513A, will have a gene that, once they mate with a female mosquito, causes the female’s offspring to manifest a specific gene sequence which will automatically kills offspring. The DNA sequence is spread to egg cultures, in vitro. The resultant male mosquitoes will incorporate this genetic sequence into their base nucleotide sequence.
In the study of the causevirus, there are two vectors that are aiding in its spread. The dreaded Aedes Aegypti, the species of mosquito that is being dealt with, also spreads Dengue fever and plasmodium (the bacteria for malaria). It is the main culprit that is spreading all three diseases, contemporaneously. The other vector is that Zika is a sexually transmitted disease. Once a human male is affected, the virus can live for a longer amount of time in the testicles. The testicles have the distinction of being “immune privileged” meaning the constituency of the formed elements of the immune system will not attack a man’s productive organs. The virus can be spread to offspring in this mechanism.
We will hope that Oxitec will not fail, and that this virus does not get worse to the degree it is projected. As informed citizens, caution must be taken to prevent infection. Insect repellant and other measures are very important and infection must be kept to a minimum. Stay safe – it is winter now, but in the imminent warmer weather, Zika will be a huge problem.