Scientists Assessing Threat of Zika Virus


Scientists and health officials are working to assess the threats the Zika virus may pose to the local area.

Purdue University Clinical Engagement Professor Fred Whitford says the disease is transmitted to people by common mosquitoes and can cause various complications, “One of the main concerns is that what it does is to women who are pregnant that are bitten by a mosquito with this virus, sometimes their babies develop a less-than-developed brain. Their head is smaller. And so the consequences are pretty serious, and that’s what’s got the public health people very worried about how bad can this get.”

Recently, Brazil has experienced an outbreak of the disease, and Whitford says there’s a possibility the virus will travel, “There is a tendency for mosquito population and diseases to be moving out of South America into our world. Being from Louisiana where it’s a lot of marshes, a lot of wet areas, the concern is it moves into these warm climates and lives. As they go north, they have to adapt to cold weather and that usually slows things down, but that’s the main worry. It’s not been here; what’s going to be the consequences?”

He says it’s possible the disease can also be transmitted sexually, but since it’s new to North and South America, there’s still a lot that scientists don’t know for sure. “A lot of this is yet to be demonstrated,” he says. “Obviously, it came from somewhere, and those people in that area have lived with it. So, how bad is it? What’s the concern? That’s what everybody’s talking about. So, it might be just a very low incidence, though it may be very high. Nobody knows.”

Whitford says health officials are still trying to figure out how the disease came to the Americas. He says it’s possible it came from Africa and was transported accidentally on an airplane or a shipping crate.