Fact: The Zika virus is a growing health issue across the globe
Zika virus is a disease spread amongst humans primarily by mosquito bites. It has been known to medicine since the 1950s and was found primarily in tropical Africa and Asia. However since 2014 the virus has been eastward across the pacific ocean causing outbreaks in Polynesia, and reaching South America in 2015. Although the virus does not cause serious illness in most healthy adults who become infected, there has been some evidence linking the virus to neurological conditions such as Guillain Barre Syndrome, as well as microcephaly.
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Carried by Mosquitos
Zika is virus belonging to the genus Flavivirus, which is related to West Nile Virus, Yellow Virus, and Dengue fever. This family of viruses is primarly transmitted by arthropods (called vectors) such as ticks and mosquitoes. In order for a virus to be able to be transferred from one sick human to another by a vector, it has to be present in high numbers in the blood stream of the sick human. Many of these Flavivirus do not grow in such numbers, and thus one sick Human will not cause a larger outbreak to occur when it is bitten by subsequent mosquitoes. However, Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever and Zika virus can all be found in high enough concentrations to reinfect new mosquitos, which have bitten the sick human. In the case of Zika, the window for when the virus is in high enough levels is roughly the first 7 days after initial infect. Because of this, most efforts to control the spread of the disease currently have been focused on controlling mosquitos.
There is also evidence that the virus can be transmitted through some sexual contact, as the virus has been recorded in the semen from infected men.
The disease caused by the Zika virus is called Zika fever. It is hard to distinguish from several other viruses found in the same geographic range, such as Dengue and Chikungunya. Symptoms included rash, mild fever, headaches, joint and muscle pain, as well as red eyes (conjunctivitis). Although many of these symptoms are obvious, only about 1 in 5 infected humans manifest symptoms: the other 4 out of 5 will carry the virus and not feel anything wrong.
It is believed to take a few days after the initial mosquito bite, before symptoms being, and they rarely last more than 7 days in total. These symptoms are not considered dangerous to healthy adults, and there have been no recorded cases of deaths from Zika Fever.
There are however a few conditions that are serious that have been associated with Zika virus in south America. In 2014 and 2015, several people who came down with aut0immune and neurological conditions (such as Guillain-Barré) were reported when reviewing patients who had been infected with the Zika virus. It is not yet clear if the virus was responsible for causing these conditions. Similarly, there were several cases of mothers who had been pregnant when they contracted the zika virus, later giving birth to children that had the condition microcephaly.
Spread of disease and control
As of January of 2016, there have been almost 2 million reported case of zika virus in humans, across 28 different countries. Of these, approximately 75% of cases have been in Brazil (an estimated 1.5 million infected people), which has also suffered some 3,174 cases of microcephaly, which lead to 38 deaths.
Because there is no treatment or vaccine available for the virus, and the possible risk to pregnancy is high, many countries including El Savlador, Jamaica, and Ecuador are advising women to postpone getting pregnant until the disease is better understood.
In the United States, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued issued a level 2 travel alert for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing and suggested that women thinking about becoming pregnant should consult with their physicians before traveling.
As of Feburary 2016 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the current Zika virus outbreak an international public health emergency. They are currently mobilizing to support countries to control Zika virus disease. Current recommendations to prevent infection and spread of the disease remain focused on mosquitos. Using insect repellent, wearing clothing to cover as much of the body as possible, screens for windows and doors, and when needed sleeping under mosquitos nets are all techniques to prevent bites. Additionally removing containers or locations where standing water can collect can prevent the needed pools which the mosquitos use to breed
To learn more about the spread and prevention of Zika visit:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Zika Virus (http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html)
- World Health Organization: Zika Facts (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/)
- Watch an educational video produced by Osmosis.org