A few words from your Wesley Nurse: Zika Virus

By Rhonda Hunnicutt, RN, Wesley Nurse

I don't think anyone would argue what beautiful weather we had this spring. I've lived in and traveled to different areas of the country and the world, and the proud Texan in me thinks there's nothing more beautiful than our own Texas bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes and other wildflowers blooming in all of God's majesty. The spring flowers have faded now, and in their place are those pesky little mosquitos.

Last year brought light to a species of mosquitoes and the frightening advent of the Zika virus, moving out of Africa and Southeast Asia towards South and Central America. It is important to note that although there have been small numbers of the Aedes mosquitos detected in southern states, there are currently no locally acquired vector-borne cases in the U.S. And the same mosquitoes that carry Zika, also carry the dengue and chikungunya viruses that we've heard about in past years. There are cases of Zika that have been diagnosed in the U.S. but have occurred from a person traveling to one of the areas previously mentioned and re-entering the country.

What we know about Zika is still evolving, but what we do know is that there has been a surge of microcephaly – a condition in which a baby's head is abnormally small due to abnormal brain development – in infants born to mothers who live or traveled in the aforementioned areas. There have also been cases in the U.S. linked to sexual transmission. New information also indicates that there may be a connection between contracting Zika and Guillan-Barre syndrome, a rare illness affecting a person's nervous system.

Zika is spread as the female Aedes mosquito bites an infected person, then goes on to bite another person where it is believed the virus is thereby transferred. These mosquitoes are aggressive, biting at all hours of the day. They like ankles and elbows, especially during the day. As with most things, simple steps can reduce or eliminate risks from biting insects. Prevention and avoidance are important. With our previous blessed rainfall, standing water is a bountiful breeding ground for mosquitos. Remember to empty containers of standing water frequently, even small ones. Pet water dishes, flower pot trays, old tires or other objects in the yard are favorite places for mosquitoes to lay eggs. Using an insect repellent is imperative in preventing mosquito bites, just make sure to read and follow the directions carefully and reapply as recommended. If you will be using both sunscreen and an insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first.

I encourage everyone to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website; there is a wealth of information available on the Zika virus: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html. Zika has been around in other countries since 1947, so the fact that we're just now seeing cases closer to home is surprising. The more we read and learn, the better we're equipped to deal with this virus. Until next time, be well and be blessed.

Rhonda Hunnicutt, RN, is a Wesley Nurse with Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. Methodist Healthcare Ministries' Wesley Nurse program is a faith-based, holistic health and wellness program committed to serving the least-served through education, health promotion and collaboration with individuals and communities to achieve improved wellness through self-empowerment. Learn more at www.mhm.org/programs/health-ministries