Thanks to Greg Folkers for sending the link to this thoughtful essay by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of NIAID: Science, Health, and Public Trust. Excerpt:
We live in a world where we take risks every day. When you have been taking a risk every day, for the last 20 or 30 years, you may be fully aware of the risk, but you have learned to live with it and it does not bother you.
However, it is very interesting to me how people react when they are confronted with a new risk. When a new risk emerges, especially if it is highly publicized, people often start to consider the new risk to be more significant than others that, in reality, pose a greater threat. This is human nature. We saw it with Ebola, we saw it here in Washington, D.C., with the anthrax attacks, and we are starting to see it now with Zika.
Zika virus is not actually new. It was first recognized in 1947 in a monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda. It was not known to infect humans until 1952, and it stayed under the radar screen for a long time. That was understandable. The virus circulated relatively unnoticed in areas of Africa and Southeast Asia until 2007, when it caused an outbreak on the Yap Islands in Micronesia. In 2013, the virus caused a much larger outbreak in French Polynesia. Despite this spread, few people paid much attention to the virus because the disease it caused was thought to be mild.
Now, of course, the situation has changed. The current outbreak that started in Brazil last year has provided new evidence that Zika virus can also cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly in babies born to infected mothers. Zika virus also has now been associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome. Now, Zika has our attention.
Many people are now hearing or reading that Zika is in their state. By the end of April, the CDC had identified Zika cases in 43 states. Some people are starting to ask whether they should travel to certain states that have reported cases of Zika. In that regard, it is important to note that none of these infections was acquired locally through infected mosquitoes. So far, all of these cases have been acquired through travel (or sexual contact with someone who has traveled) to countries or territories where Zika is circulating locally.
While we have not yet seen locally acquired cases of Zika in the continental United States, this almost certainly will occur. It is unlikely that these locally acquired cases will become sustained and widespread. However, we must be prepared to deal with them. Certainly, there is no reason to panic. We are going to have to do a lot to educate the public about what the risk is and what the risk is not, and to help people keep the risk in perspective.