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UA professors hope mosquito study provides clues to stopping Zika virus

Published: Feb. 5, 2016 at 2:17 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:12 PM MST
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(Source: Pan American Health Organization)
(Source: Pan American Health Organization)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Concerns over the Zika virus continue to grow as do the number of cases.

More than 50 cases have been reported in the United States while the total worldwide is in the tens of thousands.

A team of professors at the University of Arizona studying mosquitoes said they hope their research leads to more information about Zika and potentially a way to stop it.

Symptoms of the virus are similar to the flu, with only about one in five people showing any symptom. Most who contract the virus will recover fully.

"You'll probably get a fever, a rash, some joint pain," said UA professor Michael Riehle.

Pregnant women, more specifically their unborn children, face the worst Zika has to offer.

"The large concern is for pregnant women," Riehle said. "If they're carrying a child, the virus may enter the fetus,"

Zika, commonly spread by mosquitoes, has been linked to microcephaly, a condition in which a baby is born with an abnormally small head and mental retardation.

The CDC has issued several travel notices, advising pregnant women to avoid the 30-plus countries where the virus is spreading. A list of those travel notices is available HERE.

Riehle said if a woman gets the virus and wants to become pregnant later on, there would be no risk to the fetus.

"After a few weeks, the infection will run its course and the virus will be out of your system," Riehle said.

Zika can spread very quickly and Riehle said he's confident we’ll see more cases popping up across the United States.

"There's so many unknowns about this virus, it's been around for awhile but this link with micrcephaly is very new and  there'e just so many questions that need to be answered still," Riehle said.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika.

The good news for Arizona residents, it's not monsoon. Riehle said that's when we typically see an influx of mosquitoes.

The spread of Zika has even affected blood donations.

The American Red Cross is working on a reporting system to deal with the virus.

"(We are) dedicated to providing the safest, most reliable blood products possible to patients in need," said Dr. Susan Stramer, vice president of Scientific Affairs at the American Red Cross. "We are monitoring the spread of Zika virus. As a precaution, (we) will be working as quickly as possible to implement a self-deferral for blood donors who have traveled to Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central or South America within 28 days prior to presenting to donate.

"We will also ask that if a donor does develops symptoms consistent with Zika virus infection within 14 days of a donation, that he or she immediately notify the Red Cross so that we can quarantine the product."

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