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An outbreak of the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus is rapidly spreading across many South American countries, leading the Centre for Disease Control to issue a Level 2 travel alert and health officials in these regions recommending women to avoid pregnancy until further notice. Worldwide concern has arisen due to its alarming association with neurological damage seen in infants whose mothers were affected with the virus during their pregnancy.
What is the Zika Virus?
The Zika virus is a tropical flavivirus transmitted by mosquitoes. It has become a particularly hard-hitting virus in recent years because of international travel, a lack of sanitation in poverty-stricken areas, and lack of immunity.
The virus has struck Brazil the hardest. It is spreading rapidly and is now prevalent in many South American countries. Many scientific sources report it is inevitable that Zika virus will spread further across Mexico and into the US. The virus had been seen previously in the tropical regions of Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands – but never of this scale.
Zika virus is spread through the Aedes species of mosquito, similar to Dengue and Chikungunya viruses. A bite from an infected mosquito allows transmission of the virus into the host’s blood stream. This leads to the possibility of the virus being spread from an infected mother to the fetus during pregnancy.
Zika virus symptoms include fever, rash, headache, joint/muscle pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). These symptoms often last from several days to a week. However, there is a risk for highly adverse complications, particularly for pregnant women. Zika virus has been linked to severe neurological underdevelopment in fetuses whose mothers were infected during pregnancy. These infants are at a drastic risk for microcephaly: an abnormally small head circumference, underdeveloped brain, and further permanent neurological problems. Brazilian officials have reported a 1792% increase in prevalence of microcephaly from 2014 to 2015.
There is currently no vaccine or medication offered to treat Zika virus infection. The US CDC recommends treating symptoms by getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids, taking medication to relieve fever and pain, and to avoid aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) until dengue is ruled out. Following a confirmed or suspected Zika infection, health officials recommend to take extra precaution in preventing mosquito bites during the first week of illness to prevent spreading the disease further.
Sources and LinksCentres for Disease Control and Prevention: Zika Virus
World Health Organization: Zika Virus
The Guardian: Zika Virus: its effects, how it is spread, and the possible threat to women