Zika virus: Public health officials say transmission easier than thought

Healthcare leaders and public health officials are putting efforts against the Zika virus into overdrive, amid further confirmed cases in the U.S. and concerns that transmission of the virus is easier than previously thought.

An emergency committee convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) met this week to discuss how to address the virus. The committee issued several recommendations, including further investigating the virus' natural history, particularly the likelihood of contracting the virus without symptoms, and continuing to generate data on the relationship between Zika and microcephaly in infants while investigating the possibility of alternate factors or co-factors in the recent increase in microcephaly.

In addition to the microcephaly connection, researchers are investigating other diseases and viruses potentially associated with Zika. For example, research published in The Lancet suggests a relationship between Zika infection and acute myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord.

The WHO also reported the sexual transmission of Zika is easier than previous research indicated, according to U.S. News & World Report. Numerous nations, including the U.S., Argentina, Italy and France, all reported local Zika infections without known mosquito carriers, and U.S. researchers have confirmed at least three cases in which the virus was sexually transmitted. People in the affected countries should use mosquito repellents, indoor spraying, bed nets and condoms to safeguard against transmission, according to Lyle Petersen, M.D., director of vector-borne disease research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Forty-eight countries and territories have reported local outbreaks. Meanwhile, Houston has confirmed a sixth case of the virus, this time involving a female senior citizen who traveled to El Salvador last November, according to the Associated Press.

Numerous people have presented Zika as an opportunity to improve on the international response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and the United Nations reports that efforts against the virus' spread have significantly outpaced the Ebola response, according to The Hill, with nearly 70 institutions and companies working to stay ahead of the virus and develop effective treatments, with 18 such institutions working on developing vaccines. 

Part of the problem is that in addition to the numerous asymptomatic Zika patients, current serological testing technology can't tell Zika from numerous other, similar viruses, according to research from JAMA, and the success of any Zika response will depend largely on successful refinement of these diagnostic methods. And Zika may only be the beginning, Carlos Pardo Villamizar, M.D., a Johns Hopkins University neurologist, told the Los Angeles Times, as climate change creates more suitable habitats for the mosquitoes that carry Zika and similar viruses.

To learn more:
- check out the WHO statement
- here's the U.S. News article
- read The Hill article
- here's The Lancet study abstract
- read the JAMA research
- check out the L.A. Times article