The recent emergence of the Zika virus in Latin America and the United States has caused a stir in short order. Though the virus rarely causes noticeable symptoms in adults who contract it, experts now believe it’s responsible causing abnormal brain development in the unborn children of infected women. The results can include miscarriage or microcephaly. Babies may be born with abnormally small heads or with brains that aren’t fully developed.
But can Zika impact your pets?
The answer remains somewhat unclear at the moment. Chris Barker is a researcher at the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at the University of California, Davis. He focuses his study on epidemiology of mosquito-transmitted diseases like the Zika virus, and he suggests the jury is still out with respect to the virus’ effect on dogs or cats.
“I think unless you’re talking about pet monkeys, which should be extremely rare cases, as far as dogs and cats, I don’t know of any information or scientific studies on that topic,” he told Mother Nature Network.
It may not qualify as bad news, but nor is it especially reassuring for pet owners.
“Certainly there’s the potential for a pet to become infected,” Barker added. “What we don’t know is what that means for the health of the animal.”
It’s also unclear whether pets can transmit the virus to humans.
“What would ultimately matter in terms of whether a pet would play a role in transmission is how much virus would be in the animals’ blood,” Barker said.
In order to be safe, the researcher recommends that people prevent the formation of mosquito breeding grounds (like standing water) around their homes.
“Encourage people to limit mosquito production from their own backyards, and they should encourage their neighbors to do the same,” Barker explained. “That’s one of the best measures we can take. Where we do have the mosquitoes, we want to do everything we can to minimize the mosquitoes and limit the transmission risk.”
Cutting the grass and trimming the bushes around your home would be wise as well, because mosquitoes are attracted to those particularly moist areas.
Zika is currently spreading via mosquito bites, but there’s also recent evidence indicating it could also be transmitted sexually. Though often mild, symptoms include headache, eye infections, rash, fever, and joint pain. The time between infection and emergence of symptoms can range from a few days to a week.
About 80 percent of people who come in contact with the virus don’t experience any symptoms, and those who do only have signs that last between 4-7 days. Severe cases—though rare—may require hospitalization. The greater risk, however, are the babies who may be impacted by infected women.
The disease is transferred via the white spotted Aedes mosquito species, which is the same mosquito that spreads the chikungunya and dengue viruses. They are more aggressive biters during the daytime and lay their eggs near standing water.
Zika is also the first virus to ever cross the species barrier and has jumped from wild animals to human beings in East Africa. In 1947, scientists successfully injected the virus into monkeys and mice for testing purposes.
If you live in a country where the Aedes species of mosquito isn’t too common, you and your furry pet should be okay.
However, anyone who is pregnant and considering travel to either the Caribbean or Latin America should think twice about going. Those traveling to affected regions should also wear mosquito repellent that contains lemon eucalyptus oil (corymbia citriodora), which is a natural repellent from lemon eucalyptus trees.