Chancellor, experts give lesson on Zika
Summer is a peak travel time and travelers to countries known to have Zika are the most likely way for the virus to enter North Carolina, which already has 18 confirmed cases.
Summer is also prime time for mosquitos, which spread the virus.
These are just some of the facts shared by Chancellor Carol L. Folt and three experts at “The Zika Virus: What You Need to Know” event June 30 at the Student Union.
Carolina is a good place for the talks because the University has more than 10 groups currently doing Zika research.
Calling Zika a problem that is “complicated but highly solvable,” Folt told the group that the University recently funded three Zika pilot studies on campus to learn more about the virus and how it’s spread. The fact that this year’s summer Olympics are being held in Brazil, where Zika has been widespread, has also increased interest in the virus.
“This is an important topic. It’s going to be in the news, and this seemed a really good time for this kind of event,” Folt told the 70 or so people that filled the meeting room for the talks.
Speakers at the Zika awareness event addressed different aspects of the virus in a series of short talks. Orange County Health Director Colleen Bridger shared these steps to prevent Zika:
• Avoid travel to any of the 62 countries known to have Zika;
• Avoid unprotected sex with men who have traveled to areas known to have Zika;
• Avoid mosquito bites;
• Mosquito-proof your home and yard by dumping standing water; and
• Avoid mosquitoes if you’ve had Zika.
Zika researcher Aravinda de Silva spoke about how unusual Zika is compared to similar viruses, especially the danger it poses to pregnant women and people who have unsafe sex.
“Zika goes to parts of the body not usually associated with mosquito-borne diseases — not just the blood but also urine and semen,” he said.
Researchers are looking to other viruses as a model for creating a vaccine for Zika.
But live viruses can’t be used to vaccinate pregnant women. So Carolina researcher Joe DeSimone is investigating the use of nanoparticles to create a vaccine that would be safe during pregnancy.
The state of North Carolina is also working on ways to respond to the threat of Zika, particularly the testing of pregnant women for the virus.
Women used to wait six weeks for their test results to come back, said Randall Williams of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. “Now you can get results back in six days,” he said.
His department is also publicizing ways to decrease the mosquito population, encouraging residents to “tip and toss” any standing water in containers around the home once a week. When outdoors, wear long pants, long sleeves and mosquito repellant. Indoors, use air conditioning or keep screens in open windows and doors.
One interesting fact about the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito is that it is a daytime biter, unlike the local Aedes albopictus, which attacks at dawn and dusk.
Aedes aegypti have another distinction. “If you’re young enough to have really good eyes and you have really quick reflexes, you might notice that they have striped legs,” Bridger said. “I myself don’t wait that long before trying to whack them.”
To learn more about Carolina’s research on the Zika virus, listen to the June 22 episode of the Well Said podcast.