Health experts put Zika in perspective for Missourians

Mosquitoes, specifically the Aedes agypti species, are a known culprit for the transmission of the Zika Virus. (MGN Online)

You know the annoyance of mosquitoes during the warm season if you call Missouri home, and the summer months bring renewed concerns for the Zika virus in many locations across the world.

Mosquitoes, specifically the Aedes agypti species, are a known culprit for the transmission of the Zika Virus.

According to a compiled projection by the CDC, the potential range of the Aedes aegypti mosquito in the United States includes the southwestern region of Missouri. Reports are rare in Missouri though, and some experts even debate a few of these mosquitoes calling Missouri home. The map does not represent the potential risk for spread of the disease.

That makes it unlikely that we’d ever have an outbreak in local transmission of the virus from mosquitoes.

In 2016, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services confirmed 31 imported Zika cases in the state. This year, strides in our understanding of the virus combined with community education efforts should hopefully limit how much we need to worry about Zika in the Show-Me State.

Being Zika-aware though, isn’t just about those blood-sucking pests. Experts say the disease can be sexually transmitted as well. This is of particular concern due to the fact that only an estimated twenty percent of people infected exhibit symptoms.

A recent study by St. Louis University associate professor Dr. Enbal Shacham sought to highlight potential hot spots for Zika transmission by unprotected sex. Shacham said the sexual transmission risk may be underestimated.

"One of the concerns is how long really is it going to last and be transmittable to some partner. The additional risk is that it’s so under-reported and we don’t really have our systems in place to identify sexually transmitted Zika virus.” Shacham said.

MU Health pediatric disease specialist Dr. Christelle Ilboubo said pregnant woman and travelers should be more aware of the risks.

“Zika actually attacks brain cells so what happens is it attacks brain cells of developing babies and stops the growth of their brain.” Ilboudo explained. This can lead to a microcephaly, a condition passed on to babies in the womb which causes the head to be much smaller than expected. It has been linked to numerous other conditions such as seizures, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, hearing/vision loss and numerous other complications.

This summer, Dr. Shacham and Dr. Ilboudo’s said it’s important to know where mosquitoes are more likely to carry Zika. Most tropical locations across the globe carry at least some risk of Zika transmission.

If you do travel to any locations with active Zika transmission, the CDC advises men to wait at least six months before having unprotected sex, for women two months. This is because the virus stays in your system for an extended period of time after onset.

So far in 2017, the state health department has only confirmed one imported case of the virus, but it's important that you stay Zika-aware, especially if you're planning on traveling abroad.

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