Zika virus is a virus transmitted by the bite of an Aedes mosquito. It was first detected in 1947 in the Zika forest in Uganda, Africa. In most people there are no obvious symptoms, but in 20% of people it causes mild fever, rashes, conjunctivitis and muscle pain. This low percentage is actually bad news because it makes it very hard for doctors to detect the virus in other people.
Zika virus has remained mainly in Asia and Africa since it was first detected with only a few hundred cases in existence until in May 2015 when Brazil announced it had detected a virus within its borders, then it exploded with over a million people affected in Brazil since then and moving on to more than 20 other South American countries.
In 2013, when the virus hit French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean, scientists noticed that although most people only had mild fever symptoms from the Zika virus, some people developed a new remarkable condition called the Guillain-Barre syndrome which attacked people’s immune systems over the course of weeks, months or years and the victim experiences increasing muscle weakness that can lead to total paralysis of the body.
The most shocking thing about the Zika virus is that it actually affecting unborn babies. This has been a big focus of the recent South American outbreak of the Zika virus. Since the virus hit Brazil last year, there have been over 3,600 reported cases of pregnant mothers being infected with the virus and giving birth to babies with a condition called Microcephaly. This is a birth defect where the newborn baby has a shrunken head and an underdeveloped brain. This potential link is still being investigated by the scientists though as not all the Microcephaly cases are thought to be caused by the Zika virus.
Advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) about how to prevent the disease from infecting you include, using insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes, not having any skin exposed and sleeping in mosquito nets. WHO has also suggested that the best way to stop them from breeding is to clean and cover all containers that can hold water such as buckets and flower pots so that they don’t have the water in them that the mosquito need to breathe.
Zika virus can also be sexually transmitted. Recently there was a case from Dallas, Texas where someone contracted the Zika virus through sexual contact. It is known so far that the person had not traveled to an infected area but their partner had recently returned from Venezuela where the virus is prevalent. There have been two other documented cases of this happening and it’s pretty scary news because it means that the virus can actually travel beyond the habitat of the mosquitoes and spread across the world.
The habitat of the mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus include the United States and so it is expected to spread into the country over the next few months. Based on how previous outbreaks have moved from south to north America, experts think it will reach Puerto Rico then Florida and other Gulf Coast states. The virus will have a harder time spreading in North America compared to South America because of the better air conditioning, window screens and government programs to control mosquitoes.
Right now the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro is hosting the 2016 Olympics. Rio is in the heart of the Zika virus epidemic. Hundreds of thousands of people that will be visiting Rio for the Olympics and most of these people will we returning to their homes in all corners of the globe and there is a chance Zika virus might go with them.
A lot of viruses out there can kill people but at the moment there is no evidence to suggest the Zika virus can kill a person despite the worrying symptoms. Viruses can mutate and the virus we are talking about right now might look very different in the future but at the moment the only fatal cases of those infected with Zika virus aren’t people who already had pre-existing diseases or conditions which the Zika virus made worse.
As of now there is no official cure or vaccine for Zika but scientists in India have claimed to discover a vaccine for the Zika virus. They began working on a Zika virus vaccine over a year ago when the epidemic first started to appear and now they claim that one of their vaccines has reached the stage of preclinical testing in animals. They hope to announce the arrival of the Zika vaccine to the world as early as possible. Zika virus has officially been announced as a global health emergency and we hope that the Zika Virus is completely eliminated from the world.