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The Zika Mosquito Virus and You

By Jak Burke

As the first case of the Zika virus occurred last month in Hawaii, Americans are waking up to a new mysterious plague. The good news – if we can call it that – is that the mosquito that carries the virus has so far not been reported in the U.S. The aforementioned case involved a mother who had spent time in Brazil while pregnant.

Travel warnings have been posted for 17 South American, Caribbean countries and territories: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Martin, Suriname, Venezuela and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The list of countries with transmission has been steadily growing; on Saturday, Barbados reported its first cases. It’s not just pregnant women who are being advised not to visit these countries, even women considering pregnancy are included.

 

What is the Zika Virus?
Zika is a disease caused by Zika virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. Center for Disease Control

 

Statistics

While it all sounds terrifying it is important that American moms don’t panic. The Zika virus has a 0 infection rate on the homeland and only 9 cases in U.S territories. Traveling to a country where the virus is located appears to present the greatest risk: 52 cases of infection from travel.

 

Where did the Zika Virus come from?

According to a recent New York Times article: “Scientists do not yet know how the Zika virus damages fetal brains. It is related to the dengue, yellow fever and West Nile viruses, which normally do not cause such damage; it is not closely related to rubella or cytomegalovirus, which are known to cause microcephaly. The virus was first discovered in monkeys in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947. It is widespread in Africa and Southeast Asia but had never been seen as a major threat because the disease it causes is usually mild. About 80 percent of people who get the virus show no symptoms; those who do usually get a fever, rash and red eyes, but they rarely require hospitalization.”

In 2007 an Asian strain was detected spreading across the South Pacific. By late 2014 it had found its way to Easter Island just off the coast of Chile. How the virus mutated or migrated in clusters of infection remains unknown. It first appeared in Brazil in May 2015 and now (2016) over 1.5 million Brazilians are infected.  Transmission is through the bite of a female mosquito carrier, and then via a human host sexually or through blood or saliva.

 

How does Zika transfer in the womb?

The Zika virus is only transferred in utero if a woman is infected while she is pregnant.

 

How does Zika affect the unborn child?
According to a report on PopSugar: “Although many people believe that the Zika virus in pregnant mothers causes microcephaly, there is no known link. Microcephaly is a disease where a child’s brain and the developing skull don’t completely form. Korn notes that people with Zika have a higher chance of having babies with microcephaly but also says that it is not confirmed if Zika alone causes the abnormality. “You could look out your window and see that it’s snowing and it’s nighttime. You could say the snow caused it to be dark out, but that’s not true, it just happened at the same time,” said Korn. “Zika could be the cause, and it’s likely, but it could also be something else. Maybe it’s Zika and a medicine people are taking, maybe it’s Zika plus another virus, or maybe it’s Zika and some underlying genetic predisposition.”

 

Important things to remember

If you are pregnant or attempting pregnancy and you must travel to one of the 17 countries listed above you should immediately go to your MD and inform him or her, so as to get all of the right information. You must treat the mosquito as your enemy and be vigilant in protecting exposed skin to the bug. Using repellents, installing a mosquito net, wearing long sleeves and pants will help cut down on the risk of a bite.

To date (February 2016) there is no vaccine for the virus. Only 20% of humans infected with the Zika virus know about it, that means that the rest do not. They do not report any symptoms and so they can potentially pass on the disease to others. So the chances of contagion person to person is high. Symptoms include: rashes, fever, aching joints and conjunctivitis.

While we must wait and see if the Zika virus hits the mainland, it’s important that we remain grounded in what scientific data is currently available. Hopefully, this is a viral bullet that Americans will dodge.

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