Photo courtesy of FLICKR.COM
Graphic by BENJAMIN GEE
by EVELYN WONG
Recent outbreaks of the Zika virus in Brazil and its rapid spread throughout the Americas has made the western hemisphere more aware of the dangers posed by a single mosquito.
According to “Zika Virus: Questions and Answers” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Zika virus spreads through the bite of infected Aedes species mosquito. Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), which may last from several days to over a week. Symptoms usually begin two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
First identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys, the Zika virus can be found in countries throughout Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific, according to the National Public Radio article “Mapping Zika: From A Monkey In Uganda To A Growing Global Concern.” The first major outbreak of Zika, in which more than 70 percent of residents were infected by Zika, occurred in the Federated States of Micronesia in 2007.
In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) confirmed the first outbreak of Zika virus infections in Brazil. As of Feb. 16, there were 72 people across 21 states in the U.S., including California, diagnosed with the Zika virus, according to abcnews.go.com. All but one have been confirmed to have contracted the virus outside of the U.S.; the first case of locally acquired Zika virus was transmitted through sexual contact in Dallas, TX.
As of Feb. 12, three people have died in Venezuela due to complications linked to the Zika virus, according to cnn.com. With the Zika virus now spreading through two dozen countries and territories in the western hemisphere, the number of Zika disease cases among travelers visiting or returning to the U.S. will likely increase, potentially resulting in local spread of the virus in some areas of the U.S.
According to cnn.com, the Aedes albopictus, which along with the Aedes aegyptl transmits the Zika virus, is present in many parts in the U.S. If these mosquitoes do become carriers, over 63 percent of the U.S. population lives in areas where Zika virus may spread during seasonally warm months, according to a model created by Toronto researchers.
According to abcnews.go.com, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued recommendations to safeguard the supply of blood donations during the Zika virus outbreak, advising those at risk of having been infected by Zika to refrain from donating blood or four weeks.
Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that may cause one to become temporarily paralyzed, has also been linked to Zika in various Latin American countries, according to bbc.com.
However, the largest concern regarding the virus is its potential link to birth defects caused when pregnant women contract the virus. According to abc.net.au, one of the most serious is microcephaly, which occurs when a baby’s brain has not developed properly. Babies born with this condition have an abnormally small head; this may lead to the brain’s failure to regulate life functions and results in intellectual disability and developmental delays.
Currently no vaccines exist to prevent ZIka infection, and no specific medical treatment is available for the disease. However, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is actively working on vaccine candidates to prevent Zika virus infection, including a DNA-based vaccine that uses a strategy similar to an investigational flavivirus vaccine for the West Nile virus, according to niaid.nih.gov.
The World Health Organization (WHO) advises prevention for mosquito bites when traveling to affected countries by using insect repellent, wearing clothes that cover as much of the body as possible, using physical barriers, such as screens, closed doors and windows and sleeping under mosquito nets.
Outbreaks of Zika are currently occurring in many countries, and the disease has been placed by W.H.O. on a global public health emergency at the same level of concern as Ebola, according to cdc.gov.
The spread of the Zika virus has led to worldwide concern regarding the upcoming Olympic Games, which will be hosted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in July. According to bbc.com, Brazilian authorities plan to target mosquitoes’ breeding grounds.
Spreading rapidly across different regions of the world, the Zika virus has sparked an international drive to invest more financial and scientific resources in finding a treatment or vaccine, working together to fight this global threat.