Don’t panic over Zika, but start taking it seriously
© Getty

Now is not the time to panic over the Zika virus. In fact, that time might never come.

But there is a real risk to Americans, and it is time that everyone — especially lawmakers in Washington — start taking that risk seriously.

ADVERTISEMENT
Right now, there is so much we don’t know about the virus. It could come to a mosquito near you, or it could burn out of the population in a few years and thus become an afterthought.

My colleagues and I at Purdue University were the first to determine the molecular structure of the virus, just as we were with the dengue virus in 2002 and the West Nile virus in 2003, important members of the same group of viruses that cause significant human disease.

There are a lot of questions I can’t answer right now.

Will it become a full-blown epidemic? How long can it stay active in semen? Now that we have seen mosquito-transmitted cases in Florida, will active transmission by mosquitoes expand throughout the continental United States? And if so, when? Are the world’s best golfers being overly cautious in skipping this year’s Olympics in Brazil?

Unfortunately, we don’t yet know the answers to these questions.

But here’s what we do know: This virus is transmitted primarily by mosquitoes and if sustained mosquito transmission in the US is reported a large number of people will be at risk for infection.

That is particularly true in the southern part of the country where conditions are ripe for mosquitoes to infect people over the hot summer months, and to return with next year’s mosquito season, expanding their foothold in the process.

Sustained transmission hasn’t happened yet as far as we can determine. The outbreak in Florida, which has been linked to mosquito transmission, may be restricted in spread due to eradication control by public health officials. However, it is likely that we will see pockets of infection in multiple regions as this year progresses. The big question is whether such local outbreaks can be isolated to prevent expanding and sustained mosquito transmission.

I won’t tell you — or Jordan Spieth — not to travel below our southern border. That’s a personal choice, and one that every person has to make on their own, especially if they are looking to have children and start families in the near future.

I will tell you to take precautions though, and the most important thing you can do is avoid getting bit by a mosquito. Insect repellent, long sleeves and long pants can go a long way in preventing bites and the spread of this virus.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the virus and pretend like it’s not a problem.

That should be true whether you’re a college student looking for a good time in Puerto Rico, an Olympian booking a ticket to Brazil or a U.S. Senator balking at the Obama administration’s request for funding to fight the virus.

We are the forefront of a potentially enormous epidemic, and it’s very important that we get the resources to try and control this before it gets out of hand. Once active transmission begins in the U.S., the virus could spread quickly, and while progress is being made, a vaccine is still years away.

Taking money from fighting Ebola is not the answer. Ebola can always come back. So can other infectious diseases.

They all need to be fought. And now is the time to fight Zika.

Let’s not wait until there is reason to be afraid.

Dr. Richard Kuhn is a director at Purdue University Institute of Inflammation, Immunology, and Infectious Disease

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.