Feb. 9, 2016 --Efforts against the Zika virus in the U.S. are focused on protecting and diagnosing pregnant women and controlling the aggressive mosquito that spreads the virus, two top U.S. health officials said in a White House press briefing Monday.
Also Monday, the CDC announced its Emergency Operations Center is moving to level 1 activation, recognizing that the threat from the virus deserves the highest level of preparedness.
On Friday, the CDC recommended that all pregnant women who have visited countries affected by the virus be offered a test for Zika even if they don’t show symptoms.
Last May, Brazil reported the first case of the virus in the Americas. In the fall, Brazil found a rise in the birth defectmicrocephaly, believed to be associated with the virus. Since then, Zika has spread to a number of countries and U.S. territories in the Americas, and the U.S. has seen some cases of travelers returning with the virus.
For most people, the virus causes a mild rash and illness, and 4 in 5 people who have it show no symptoms, said Anne Schuchat, MD, principal deputy director of the CDC.
"For the average American," she said, "this is not something that will change your day-to-day life. But if you are pregnant, we are taking the unusual step of recommending that you avoid travel to areas where Zika is spreading. If you live in an area such as that or must travel, be very vigilant with applying mosquito repellent and taking steps to avoid mosquito bites."
Complicating control is that the mosquito that spreads the Zika virus is an aggressive daytime biter, Schuchat said.
"It lives outside and inside the home, and it could be pretty hard to control it. ... That said, we are working very aggressively with areas where the virus is spreading and where it may spread to make sure that they are prepared and we can help prevent serious complications of pregnancy," she said.
Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the government is responding on several fronts: understanding the history of the infection, understanding what is different about this virus compared with others, controlling mosquitoes, improving speed of diagnosis, and developing a vaccine.