What is the Zika virus and why you should care

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What is the Zika virus and why you should care


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Zika is a dangerous virus spreading rapidly in Latin America through Aedes mosquitoes bites and further through sexual relationships. The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers the Zika virus to constitute a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ as there is a strong link suspected with the microcephaly malformation (an abnormally small head).

What are the symptoms?

The Zika virus provokes mild symptoms which are hard to detect and which develop only in 1 person on 5. They are similar to those of dengue and chikungunya.

  • low-grade fever (between 37.8°C and 38.5°C)
    joint pain
    muscle pain
    headache
    conjunctivitis
    cutaneous rash
    lack of energy

Moreover, a rare nervous system disorder, the Guillain-Barre syndrome, that can cause temporary paralysis has also been linked to the infection.

At the moment, no vaccine or drug treatment has been identified to cure the disease but  the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi has announced its laboratories are working to develop a vaccine to the Zika virus.

 

Why is it so dangerous for pregnant women?epa05133912 Ana Beatriz is held by her father Alipio Martin during a medical appointment at the Altino Ventura Foundation in Recife, Brazil, 29 January 2016. In Brazil, authorities are trying to shed light on the link between Zika virus related to 4000 babies born with microcephaly. EPA/Percio Campos

Whereas infection to the Zika virus hasn’t proved deadly up until today, the WHO found a strong causal link between the virus and the increasing cases of microcephaly malformation among the newborn. With a head size below average, these babies suffer from permanent intellectual disabilities, problems with movement and balance, hearing loss and vision problems or development delays. The handicap can even be deadly if the brain is so underdeveloped that it cannot regulate the functions vital to life. Therefore, pregnant women are particularly at risk. Since October 4,000 cases of microcephaly have been identified in Brazil whereas previously only about 200 cases were counted each year in the country.

 

What countries have Zika?

The virus was first identified in monkeys in Uganda in 1947 and transmitted to humans in Africa after which it spread to South East Asia. Since May 2015 itis spreading rapidly in Brazil and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. Over 1.5 million Brazilians are suspected to have been infected by the Zika virus.

However, in a globalised world, epidemics are able to spread very fast from one continent to another. In the US and several European countries cases of Zika have already been detected on people traveling back from the Latin American region.

zika-map6

 

 

 

 

 

 

How is the virus transmitted?

epa05129413 A picture available on 27 January 2016 shows transgenic mosquitoes in a laboratory in Piracicaba, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 26 January 2016. Every week, 800,000 genetically modified mosquitoes are released in Piracicaba to combat the Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits dengue fever and Zika. The transgenic mosquitoes mate with wild mosquitoes and transmit them a lethal gene avoiding descendants to reach the adult age, which results in decreasing of mosquitoes population. EPA/SEBASTIAO MOREIRA

Zika is primarily transmitted through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes, the same tropical mosquitoes that spread Chikungunya and dengue. These mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters and become infected when they bite a person already carrying with the virus.

 

Thriving in warm tropical climates, they are less likely to appear in cooler environments such as Canada or Northern Europe and in altitudes higher than 2,000 meters such as the Mexico City plateau. However, with the global warming, scientists are preoccupied they could spread even more widely.

Zika can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy and might cause microcephaly malformation to the child.

It appears that the virus can also be sexually transmitted as it happens in the first discovered case in Texas, US, on February 3rd.

What are preventive measures?

Since there is no vaccine or treatment to the virus yet, the best way to prevent diseases spread by mosquitoes is to avoid being bitten. What you can do:

  • wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside
  • use insect repellents
  • treat clothing and gear with permethrin
  • sleep under a mosquito bed net

Moreover, authorities in Brazil have advised pregnant women not to attend the Rio Olympic games in August 2016 and stay in cool areas where mosquitoes are less likely to spread.

Why is it a public health emergency?

Declaring the Zika virus as a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ singles the disease out as a serious global threat. It puts it in the same category of importance as Ebola, H1N1 and the Polio. This should spark an international drive to invest more money and resources into delivering aid and finding a treatment or a vaccine to stop the virus.

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