Zika virus could be a problem for Oregon residents

Although the Zika Virus is not an immediate threat to Oregon residents, it should still be taken seriously according to a University of Oregon researcher.

The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne illness has only affected three people in Oregon. However, the virus may pose a bigger threat than most might think, Dr. Janis Weeks, a UO neurologist and biology professor said.

The Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes, predominantly located in South America, Southeast Asia and Africa. Mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus are not likely to reach Oregon, but the virus can still be spread through sexual intercourse.

Symptoms of the virus are usually not severe and may even mimic symptoms of the common cold.

Those who come in contact with the disease do not display the sickness’ symptoms 75 percent of the time, and people who have Zika virus can potentially spread it without the realization of doing so, Weeks said.

“We don’t know the long-lasting effects of the virus,” Weeks said. “The number of cases is turning this into an emerging problem that needs action.”

Even though the symptoms may not be severe, it can cause long-term neurological damage, especially to infants and fetuses. There have also been subtle signs of neurological damage in children whose parents have come in contact with Zika virus, Weeks said. Researchers are also unsure of how long the virus can affect people, specifically pregnant women.

Dr. Richard Brunader, medical director at the University Health Center, said the danger of the Zika virus is not to be overlooked although it currently does not present a direct threat to UO students.

“At this point, there has been no documentation of the mosquito that carries the virus in Oregon; however, there is risk to students who travel to infected areas as well as international students, depending on the countries they have traveled to,” Brunader said.

Brunader also said there is not yet a vaccination or treatment for the Zika virus. Because the symptoms (fever, rash, joint pain, headache) are usually not severe, people who may have Zika virus can take everyday pain relievers for minor discomforts.

Although people with Zika virus cannot yet be treated for the virus itself, it can still be prevented by taking certain precautions when traveling to countries containing the Aedes mosquitoes that carry Zika virus.

If students face a risk of coming in contact with Zika virus, Oregon Public Health talks about a few ways of preventing the virus. They recommend covering exposed skin with long pants and long-sleeved clothing, actively applying mosquito repellent,  staying and sleeping in a screened room and using protection when engaging in sexual activities. All this does not mean that students should cancel travel or study abroad plans, but they should take caution when dwelling in mosquito heavy climates.

For the most updated information on the Zika virus, visit the Oregon Public Health or the Center for Disease Control’s website.

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Taylor Perse

Taylor Perse