Diagnosis of a mosquito-transmitted disease in troops is raising concerns about a virus that few in the U.S. had worried about.
Since roughly 2007, news of Zika – mostly transmitted through a bite from an infected mosquito, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), outbreaks have been popping up on in the media after a long disappearance of the disease. Until recently, circumstances of Zika in the US were entirely due to travel outside the country. Then, diagnosis of locally-acquired cases began to appear in Florida.
In the first week of August, news organizations like CNN, Reuters and the New York Post began reporting that service members and dependents contracted the disease – at last estimation 41 members of the Armed Forces, including one pregnant service member, and seven military dependents. The number is continuing to grow steadily, and it is important that the military community educate themselves about Zika, especially if they are in areas affected by the disease and, if they are considered to be in a high-risk health category.
One interesting note is that although the topic has been ongoing in headlines, many people who get Zika may not even realize they have it partly because their symptoms can be mild. While there have been deaths, many of the victims had underlying health concerns and/or no access to quality medical care. Additionally, one of the biggest concerns with Zika is the effect it can have on unborn children. Military spouse and freelance writer/blogger, Angela Drake wrote about Zika while living in Ecuador, “the Zika virus may be related to increased cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder, and pregnant women giving birth to babies with microcephaly, a form of severe brain damage.”
It was also reported that a pregnant service member had tested positive for Zika, which open doors on the reporting of the connection of the virus to military members and their families. Reuters reported, “the U.S. service members are believed to have been affected outside the continental United States.” In a DoD News Now video, we learned that a Pentagon memo stated the mosquito capable of carrying Zika virus is likely found on 190 U.S. bases in 27 States and 3 US Territories. In April of this year, the DoD allocated 1.76 Million in funding to expand Zika surveillance worldwide. Military families across the world are now being briefed on how to protect themselves from Zika and are being given the opportunity to voluntarily evacuate Zika-infected areas if they are at high-risk. Further, provisions are being made for pregnant service members and dependents to request relocations and early PCS. While these things are still up to the discretion of commands, it is a step in the right direction.
Families located in South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean are particularly susceptible. American states and US Territories are also experiencing cases of locally-acquired Zika virus. What this is means is that the virus was acquired at that location rather than being brought there due to travel. According to the CDC, Florida, America Samoa, US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are experiencing cases of the virus; so concern is no longer limited to those stationed OCONUS. Every state, however, has turned up cases of people returning home from travel and becoming ill. It is for this reason that everyone, not just those stationed in the worst areas, need to be vigilant. The CDC cautions that the Zika virus can be transmitted through blood transfusions, sex, and from a pregnant woman to their baby.
So how can you protect yourself from the Zika virus?
- The CDC says the best way is to prevent bites. Look for ingredients like DEET, Picaridin, Oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol and IR3535, which you can find in Cutter, Off!, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus and others.
- Dress infants too young for spray in long clothing and cover beds and strollers with mosquito nets.
- Use mosquito nets in your home when necessary and be vigilant with standing water. Keep your home air conditioned.
- Whether you are going on vacation or preparing for a military move or TDY, check Zika Travel Updates for the latest information. If you are pregnant avoid travel to these areas if possible. As a service member and dependant you now have the option to consider Zika in your PCS and TDY plans. Seek out command and medical officials for assistance with this.
What should you look for if you are living in, or traveling to, an area experiencing Zika cases?
- Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
- Muscle pain
For more information on Zika Virus and to stay up to date on information visit the CDC’s website.
For service members and their families, you can access Zika information, as well as policy updates via Health.mil.
If you are living in Central or South America, you can read more of Angela’s piece on Zika for more information specific to that location.