Zika Virus Spreads Across Globe
by Catie Wise on Friday, February 12th, 2016
On Monday, February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a “public health emergency of international concern,” following an outbreak of microcephaly cases in Brazil due to the Zika virus. First identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys, Zika was found in humans in 1952 in the countries of Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. The disease is transferred through the bites of Aedes mosquitoes, specifically in tropical regions. While mosquito bites were originally thought to be the only mode of transmission, one may contract Zika through contact with the bodily fluids of those infected.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zika is fairly mild, with manageable symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (commonly known as “pink-eye”) lasting anywhere from several days to a week. There are currently no effective vaccines or treatments that can prevent or cure Zika; therefore, avoidance of contact with mosquitoes and the interaction with the infected is the best precautionary measure.
Simple precautions like applying insect repellent, wearing light-colored clothes that cover as much of the body as possible, and using mosquito nets and other physical barriers like screens, are effective forms of prevention.
According to the CDC, only about 1 in 5 people who are infected with Zika virus actually develop the virus. Furthermore, those who do contract the illness rarely get sick enough to go the hospital or die. And though there is no cure currently, there are ways for one to manage symptoms, such as resting, hydrating, and taking medication like acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain.
Though seemingly harmless to most people, the Zika virus is extremely problematic in pregnant women, posing a great threat to unborn babies. One possible consequence of the virus is microcephaly, in which babies born to Zika-infected mothers have abnormally small heads, and, as a result, underdeveloped brains. WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, says that, “a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically proven.”
Another suspected and dangerous result of Zika is Guillame-Barré Syndrome, a serious neurological condition that eventually leads to paralysis. Although several conditions are speculated to stem from the Zika virus, no condition has been definitely linked. However, CDC says that, to be safe, women in any trimester of their pregnancy, or women attempting to become pregnant, should not travel to areas that have reported having current Zika transmissions. These areas include 28 nations scattered across Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific, according to WHO. There are currently no cases reported in the continental United States, but there have been cases in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the American Samoa. In particular, the majority of recent cases of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities have been reported in Latin America and French Polynesia.
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