In a plea to Congress to approve a $1.9 billion Zika research grant, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden explained the importance of speed when facing a “public health emergency.” Money would expedite research like what's being done at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Dr. Ken Tyler, a neurologist with the University of Colorado Hospital and department chair of Neurology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine is part of a team doing research on mice using the Zika virus.
“Zika can affect the nervous system of newborn mice and interestingly as mice get older they seem to get less susceptible to infection both in our hands in others,” Tyler said. “So there does seem to be this window of vulnerability, especially strong during pregnancy.”
That’s the major concern supporting more funding research. Doctors and scientists need to learn more about how the Zika virus is transmitted from a pregnant mother to the placenta and into a fetus. Newborns with infected mothers are often born with microcephaly, a condition in which they’re born with abnormally small heads and therefore small brains.
“They often have pretty severe, often mental, cognitive, and neurological deficits,” he said.
Because of that vulnerability, pregnant women are being urged to stay away from Zika infected regions, including Rio De Janeiro, home of the 2016 Olympic Games. But it’s not scaring many athletes away.
“We are ready to go, ready to step on the mat,” said Colorado Olympic wrestler Adeline Gray. “I don’t think some bugs are going to keep us away from there.”
But that doesn’t mean athletes aren’t thinking about it.
“I think the Zika virus can be concerning for an athlete because the acute illness is joint pain and flu like illness which would take away from athletic performance,” said diver Abby Johnston.
But Johnston is going without too much fear, trusting the International Olympic Committee and assisting medical experts will take proper precautions during the games. Not to mention, the numbers are in her favor.
“About eight in 10 people infected with Zika don’t show any symptoms at all. About 20 percent, one in five, show a mild illness,” explains Dr. Tyler. “So they’ll get a rash, they’ll get a fever, they’ll get red-eye, conjunctivitis, they may get some joint swelling. On the whole it’s self-limited, doesn’t require treatment, nothing bad happens, it goes away.”
But when you consider hundreds of thousands of people will be arriving to Rio in August, you have to consider they’ll all go back where they came from. That includes the United States where there are areas with mosquitos capable of carrying the virus.
CDC director Frieden believes that’s not too big of a deal considering the millions of Americans that travel to the Caribbean and Latin America every year. His concern is finding a way to prevent infection in pregnant women.
“There’s hope that with accelerated studies related to vaccines they’ve talked about potentially having a Zika vaccine that could be put into human trials within a year or two period,” Dr. Tyler said.