New mosquito-borne Zika virus could hit the Riviera

Aedes Aegypti mosquito

Since the Asian tiger mosquito, carrier of dengue fever, first made a buzz in Menton in 2004, its pesky presence has steadily grown in the Var and parts of the Alpes-Maritimes, while cases of Chikungunya were reported in the Hérault in 2014.

Now a new threat could hit our region: the Zika virus, named after the forest in Uganda where it was first isolated, is transmitted by mosquitoes, primarily the Aedes aegypti (pictured), that bite infected people and then pass it on to others. It’s seen mainly in the West Indies but in early January 2016 twelve cases were confirmed in Martinique; in 2013, nearly 55,000 people were infected in French Polynesia.

Also in January, the US Centers for Disease Control confirmed a case in Houston, Texas, to a female traveller from an undisclosed destination. (The CDC has confirmed 22 cases of Zika since 2007.)

Symptoms, which occur within 3 to 12 days after a bite, are often flu-like (fever, headache, joint pain, eye redness), accompanied by a rash although only one in five people infected actually become ill. There is no treatment, only rest and fluids.

Complications can be frightful, mainly neurological disorder or birth defects in pregnant women. Specifically, a “crisis” in Brazil where health officials are investigating a possible connection between the Zika virus and babies born with microcephaly, a condition with an abnormally small head size associated with incomplete brain development. The CDC claims that more than 3,500 microcephaly cases were reported in that country between October 2015 and January 2016, a figure far from the 200 per year average.

As a result, the CDC issued a warning on January 15th: “Out of an abundance of caution, pregnant women are advised to consider postponing travel to areas where the Zika virus transmission is ongoing.”

Travellers to Zika virus regions (see www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html) are advised to wear insect repellent, and long sleeves and pants, and keep windows closed while turning on the air-con ...

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