What is the Zika Virus?

by MATT DiSTEFANO

The Zika virus represents a growing health emergency for the international community and was declared a “public health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO); unlike many issues reported in international news today, Zika has the potential to directly affect and harm residents of the United States.[1]

Zika is a virus carried by the Aedes mosquitoes and was first recorded in Africa. Previously Zika virus has only been recorded in small outbreaks. But, since cases were reported in Brazil in May of 2015, the spread of the virus has become quicker, with the potential to infect four million individuals by the end of the year.[2]

The symptoms for the virus are actually fairly mild, including a mild fever, headache, joint pain, and rashes. However, Zika is known to attack nervous system cells. It has been linked to a rare and temporary nervous system disorder known as Guillain-Barre syndrome. More importantly, Zika has been linked to thousands of cases of microcephaly in infants born to mothers who were infected when pregnant.

MICROCEPHALY

“Brazil had fewer than 150 cases of microcephaly in the whole of 2014. But more than 4,700 cases have been reported since 22 October 2015, with 404 confirmed and 3,670 still being investigated.” Recent lab tests confirmed Zika “was able to destroy or disrupt the growth of neural progenitor cells, which build the brain and nervous system.”[3]

Because Zika is spread via the Aedes mosquito, it has the potential to spread to the southern and eastern United States-including NY state.

zika map

The Zika virus can also be spread through sexual transmission, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigating 14 cases of possible sexual transmission within the United States.[4] However, the disease is still primarily spread through mosquitoes.

In order to combat the spread of the disease, health authorities in Latin American nations have enacted massive efforts to drain standing water, spray insecticide in public and urban areas, and conduct research on patients to determine more definitively how to best protect individuals. In a few of these states, including Brazil, the military has been deployed to help combat the crisis. While the American National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has been developing a vaccine to be ready for phase I trial testing by the end of the summer or early fall, the actual distribution of a vaccine to the public could take until 2018.[5] Until then, authorities are urging caution, with some Latin American countries urging women to delay their pregnancies until the spread of the virus can be brought under control.


 

[1] Gallagher, James. “Zika Outbreak: What You Need to Know – BBC News.” BBC News. BBC, 4 Feb. 2016. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.

[2] Mcneil, Donald G., Catherine Saint Louis, and Nicholas St. “Short Answers to Hard Questions About Zika Virus.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.

[3] Gallagher, James. “Zika Caught ‘killing’ Brain Cells – BBC News.” BBC News. BBC, 4 Mar. 2016. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.

[4] Tavernise, Sabrina. “C.D.C. Investigating 14 New Reports of Zika Transmission Through Sex.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Feb. 2016. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.

[5] Mazumdar, Tulip. “Zika Vaccine Possible ‘within Months’ – BBC News.” BBC News. BBC, 4 Mar. 2016. Web. 09 Mar. 2016.