It is the virus spread through mosquito bites that can cause serious birth defects.
“Zika is coming to the United States,” Dr. Theodore Andreadis said, “we have infected people coming back on a regular basis and as we approach the summer months some of these people are going to be bitten by our local species.”
Andreadis is the Director of the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station in New Haven. His team of researchers are working with a Zika virus sample collected in Mexico and they are testing whether local species of mosquitos are capable of transmitting the disease.
The primary mosquito carrying the disease and causing an epidemic in Central and South America is a tropical species (Aedes Aegypti) that is not found in Connecticut, Dr. Andreadis said, but at least one other type of mosquito (Aedes Albopictus) than can transmit the disease does exist in the state’s climate.
The Connecticut Department of Health earlier this week confirmed the first case of a pregnant woman from Connecticut contracting Zika while traveling in Central America.
“It is a crisis that we need to manage before it gets out of control,” Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said during a visit Thursday to the Agriculture Experiment Station. She is urging Congress to approve the president’s request for $1.9 billion to fight the Zika epidemic.
“We have no effective diagnostic tests nor does there exist treatment or vaccine that we can offer our patients,” said Dr. Albert Ko from the Yale School of Public Health. He has been travelling back and forth to the epicenter of the epidemic in northeast Brazil.
“You have to lay the groundwork now because a vaccine does not get down overnight,” DeLauro said.
DeLauro said federal funding would go toward research to develop a vaccine, public health emergency preparedness and resources for mosquito population control.
“We need to do enhanced surveillance,” Andreadis said. “We need specialized traps to monitor these specific mosquitos that carry the virus and we could use additional funding to add to our surveillance program.”
There are steps the public can take for protection like wearing long sleeves and mosquito bite repellant in the warmer summer months when mosquitos are more prevalent.
Andreadis advises cleaning out standing water in bird baths, pools and containers were mosquitos often breed.
The Centers for Disease Control has released guidelines for couples because Zika can be sexually transmitted. Men who are diagnosed with the virus and show symptoms should use protection or not have sex for at least six months. The CDC advises women to wait at least 8 weeks after exposure or when symptoms show before trying to get pregnant.