21 countries in the Americas have reported cases of the Zika virus. This recent outbreak is supposed to have started in May of last year, when the first cases were detected in Brazil, and is expected to spread all the way across the Americas, possibly even spreading as far north as New York and Chicago.
If you're wondering what the virus is, here's a brief description from the New York Times:
"The Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted infection related to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile virus. Although it was discovered in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947 and is common in Africa and Asia, it did not begin spreading widely in the Western Hemisphere until last May, when an outbreak occurred in Brazil."
One of the more worrying symptoms of the virus is that it appears to cause a condition in infants called microcephaly. If a pregnant woman gets infected with Zika, her child can be born with an abnormally small head and brain, and even die.
Because the virus is rare, most people's immune systems are not prepared for it, allowing it to spread quickly across countries through new populations. We also do not have a vaccine for it yet, although scientists are beginning to develop one.
Some of the measures taken to try and prevent the further spread of the virus involve tackling its carriers, rather than the virus itself. If we can prevent a few certain types of mosquitoes from laying eggs and spreading, we can stop or slow the spread of the virus. Mosquitoes need still water to lay their eggs, so getting rid of open containers and putting larvicide in standing bodies of water can greatly diminish their breeding rate.
Unfortunately, there's not too much we can do right now. The virus is already here and spreading fast, and while we can try to slow down the spread, trying to develop a vaccine will take several years.
I think that we should take action to eliminate certain types of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can be genetically modified so that their offspring will die, or they pass on a gene that makes their offspring infertile. Genetically engineering massive amounts of mosquitoes and releasing them to kill off certain species of mosquitoes has been discussed for solving several tropical diseases and even the spread of malaria. The type of mosquito that spreads Zika also carries dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile virus. Fighting the carrier of these diseases rather than the diseases themselves could be a very effective long-term solution to the current problem.
What do you think? What should the U.S. do in the face of this rapidly spreading disease, knowing that it will eventually come here? What other long-term solutions can we come up with to not only cure Zika, but prevent other diseases from spreading in this way?