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Zika season approaches

| Monday, May 1, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Remember Zika? The panic has died down surrounding the mosquito-borne virus that last year prompted the Pittsburgh Pirates to cancel a trip to Puerto Rico. But is the disease still rampant? We asked for insight fromDr. Ernesto Marques, associate professor in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and scientific director of Pitt's Cura Zika, an international alliance with counterparts in Brazil to help fundraising for research into the virus.

When does Zika season start?

Although Zika can be transmitted through bodily fluids of an infected person, it is primarily spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, so Zika season is mosquito season. The type of mosquitoes that spread Zika are called Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus and they are present in several states, including Pennsylvania. Mosquitoes are active in the summer months, so your likelihood of contracting Zika from a mosquito depends on if you are traveling to an area with infected mosquitoes. Zika-infected mosquitoes have been found in the southern United States, but not in Pennsylvania or any of the states surrounding it. Visit cdc.gov to find out if an area you are traveling to has active Zika transmission and what you can do to avoid contracting it.

Has it made more of an impact in the United States?

In the U.S., there have been 5,264 Zika cases reported, with the vast majority in travelers returning from affected areas in other countries. Mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission has been reported in Brownsville, Texas, (six cases) and in South Florida (218 cases). Zika is often asymptomatic, and when people do have symptoms they tend to be mild and skin rash is the main symptom. Zika is problematic, however, because it can spread from a pregnant mother to her fetus and cause serious neurological damage to the unborn baby. Last year, a total of 1,297 pregnancies with possible Zika infection were reported from 44 states, and about 1 in 10 of the pregnancies with laboratory-confirmed Zika resulted in a fetus or baby with Zika-related birth defects, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why has the media stopped reporting on Zika when compared to a year ago?

It is true that the initial alarm and emergency surrounding last year's realization that there was a Zika outbreak in Brazil and that it was causing devastating neurological problems in newborns has died down. It is important that journalists continue to bring attention to this public health crisis, as it is still a long way from being solved. In addition, as other diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes, media attention tends to be reduced during the winter and increases during the summer, when the number of cases increase. A recent New York Times article told the stories of families affected by Zika and even directed readers to visit CuraZika (www.curazika.pitt.edu), the international alliance between the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and our Brazilian collaborators, if they wished to help advance research and aid to Zika-affected areas. We were humbled by the response.

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