Zika virus: 4 reasons NJ shouldn’t freak out
The Zika virus has received plenty of attention lately — being linked to birth defects and even seeing a confirmed case in the Garden State. But New Jersey residents shouldn't get so worked up over the mosquito-borne illness just yet.
After all, health officials have not yet registered one locally acquired case in the United States. The dozens of U.S. cases — including two of Lehigh students this week — have been the product of travel to other countries where outbreaks are ongoing.
We reached out to Dr. Ted Louie, an infectious disease expert with Highland Park Medical Associates in East Brunswick, to discuss what role, if any, New Jersey may end up playing in the spread of Zika.
According to Louie, there shouldn't be much concern among New Jersey residents, except pregnant women — and here are the reasons why.
1. Mild illness
Pregnant women have been put on high alert, and are advised to stay away from Zika-affected regions, as health officials examine a link between the virus and birth defects.
However, for mostly anyone else who contracts the virus, the symptoms are mild and last only up to a week.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis.
"That doesn't sound terribly different from a lot of other illnesses you get," Louie said. "Many viruses cause similar illnesses, and we don't tend to freak out about every single virus."
Hospitalization for Zika is uncommon, the CDC noted, and just one in five people infected with Zika become ill.
2. Wrong mosquito species
Zika virus is transmitted primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.
According to Louie, this species can be found in certain states, such as Florida and Texas, but not New Jersey.
Unless a very specific chain of events should occur, Louie said, an outbreak in New Jersey is very unlikely.
It also helps that this scare comes in the middle of February.
"If this were warm weather, then we would have more concern, so we have a little bit of a buffer here," Louie said. "This time of year, there's no fear at all for us."
Spread of the virus, according to the CDC, is also possible through blood transfusions and sexual contact, and in rare cases from mother to child.
3. Simple prevention tips
No one enjoys a mosquito bite, whether it brings a serious virus or just an itchy bump.
And the same protections you've been using for years can help decrease your chances of contracting Zika.
Pants and long-sleeved shirts, the use of window and door screens, and insect repellent should do the trick, as always.
"Whatever has been working for you to prevent mosquito bites, that's what you need," Louie said. "You don't need any super heavy-duty, industrial-strength stuff."
Clothing can be sprayed with products as well that last through multiple washings.
There is currently no vaccine or specific medications devoted to Zika.
4. Been there, done that
"Going back for many, many years, every so often there's a new virus that circulates, and Zika's no different," Louie told New Jersey 101.5. "Even over the last several years, there have been other viruses that have circulated in the exact same areas."
He's right. We've done stories on plenty of other well-known mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya, and many of the same rules and tips apply to all of these viruses. In fact, according to the CDC, mosquitoes that spread Zika also spread dengue and chikungunya viruses.
There has been one travel-associated case registered in New Jersey - a woman who came to Bergen County from Colombia.