The world has learned in recent months of a frightening epidemic virus named Zika. For many of us past childbearing age, the warnings that pregnant women are at risk for deformed children seem like a distant concern. But actually, Zika is a potentially nightmarish problem for older people here in Texas.
For most adults, Zika (named for the forest where it was discovered in Uganda) causes little more than a mild flu-like condition that resolves itself in a few days. But for people with serious underlying disease, Zika can put them at serious risk for severe complications. It’s not altogether unlike the same risks seniors face in contracting the flu.
What’s more, a significant number of Zika patients have demonstrated a generally transient neurological condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause varying degrees of paralysis lasting for varied durations. Several deaths have been reported, but at the time of this report, the full extent of the mortality is not understood.
So what should older people do? First, it’s important to realize that the virus is spread by various specie of the Aedes mosquito. Although the mosquito can be found in the United States, it is not typically found in large numbers and is generally limited to southern states. The mosquito generally bites in the daytime and, as with most mosquitoes, it is the female that bites and causes the transmission of the virus to the host. Presently, there is no vaccine or approved treatment. The best prevention is control of the mosquito population. That means home and business owners should remove standing water from their properties, recognizing that even small amounts of standing water can rapidly become a mosquito breeding ground.
Prudent use of mosquito repellant is advisable and careful spraying around a home for mosquitoes should be done. Do-it-yourself advocates can spray effectively, but it makes sense to consult with experts, such as an agriculture extension agent or other professional, before spraying. And above all, follow the application instructions with care. Others may prefer to hire a pest control company to conduct scheduled sprayings.
Since there is no vaccine or approved treatment, seniors should keep in touch with their health team and stay abreast of developments about the Zika Virus. The news media is doing a good job of informing the public about this important health issue. But for the absolute latest information, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a link to information on their website. It can be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html
Dr. John Measel is a retired immunologist who resides in Tyler, Texas. He is a volunteer with AARP and serves on the AARP Texas Executive Council.