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Protecting ourselves from Zika

M.D. Universal Uclick

Today, I’d like to answer questions about the Zika virus, and also talk about how we can protect ourselves against this epidemic.

WHAT SHOULD I DO TO PROTECT MYSELF AGAINST ZIKA VIRUS?

In my opinion, there is no reason for most people living in the United States to be concerned. The exception is women who are pregnant, who could be in early stages of pregnancy and not know it, or who could soon be pregnant.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised such women to avoid traveling to the areas of the Western Hemisphere where the Zika virus is spreading. That includes Mexico and countries in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. You can find a constantly updated listing of areas with the virus, and more information about the virus, at cdc.gov/zika.

Great Britain has advised men who travel where the virus is present to use condoms for about one month during travel and after returning home.

WHY ARE WE SUDDENLY FACED WITH THIS VIRUS THAT WE NEVER HEARD ABOUT BEFORE?

Because epidemics don’t explode until they suddenly do. Sometimes a virus mutates in a way that allows it to more easily infect humans. Sometimes it is carried to a part of the world where it never has been before, such as by a traveler. If the virus is carried by an insect, the environment can change in a way that favors that insect.

WHY DON’T WE HAVE GOOD TESTS, TREATMENTS AND VACCINES FOR ZIKA VIRUS?

Public health professionals have long known about Zika. We could have been developing tests, treatments and vaccines for it, but that costs money. Without enough money, we can’t plan for every possible epidemic. So public health authorities have to prioritize. Until Zika spread to the Western Hemisphere and began to create serious disease, it was low priority.

So will we be protected against future epidemics of Zika virus? To some extent. But the greater the investment we make in public health today, the safer we’ll be tomorrow.

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