The Zika Virus (Because Mosquitos Weren’t Already Annoying Enough)

The Zika Virus is a “public health emergency of international concern”

– World Health Organization (WHO)

3111C88A00000578-3439918-image-a-38_1455149023997The World Health Organization (WHO) recently implicated the Zika virus as a “public health emergency of international concern1.” This was in response to the rapid outbreak throughout several regions of the world, and the possible connection between the virus and neurological disorders such as microcephaly. The alarm came after Brazil’s Ministry of Health reported a noticeable increase in the prevalence of microcephaly, a condition resulting in an abnormally small head and brain, among children occurring at nearly the same moment as a Zika outbreak2-4. Microcephaly, which historically affected approximately 1 in 500 births in Brazil, has now soared to almost 26 times the norm4. By January 27th this year, Brazil’s Ministry of Health reported over 4000 cases3. An absolutely staggering amount that just so happens to be occurring directly with the Zika outbreak. Although the evidence thus far has been correlative, new data that is coming in strongly implicates the virus as a possible cause of microcephaly5,6. (Image Credit: DailyMail.co.uk)

 

Despite the recent attention given to Zika, the virus was actually discovered more than 50 years ago7-9. It was originally identified in rhesus monkeys in the Zika forest (hence the name), and since that time has been found in humans throughout Africa and Asia where it had been confined for decades. The virus then spread rapidly throughout the tropics making its way to the Americas with the first report of indigenous transmission in Brazil last year (see table below for list of regions with confirmed Zika outbreks7,10). There has been no spread of the virus within the US, however, at least 8 travelers have come home with the infection7. With spring and summer just around the corner, the possibility of an outbreak stateside seems increasingly plausible.

 

If you find yourself around an infected individual, don’t fret! It’s unlikely you will catch the sickness from them, unless of course you’re into unprotected sex or blood transfusions from strangers. The primary mode of acquiring the virus is through the most delightful of all insects, the mosquito. Like other forms of mosquito born infections such as malaria or Dengue, a bite from a female infected with Zika will result in the virus invading your body7-9.

 

Now before you run to the store and start buying all sorts of chemicals to make a toxic stew to bathe in, keep in mind that the Zika virus is for the most part harmless to humans. Those that get infected will typically be asymptomatic11,12. For the few “unlucky” ones symptoms will manifest in a couple days, often presenting themselves as a mild rash and fever that generally dissipates in about a week. The flu is more frightening than this harmless bug11,12.

 

So why all the fuss, you may be asking yourself. A “public health emergency of international concern” as the WHO so eloquently put it seems a bit more than alarming. While it’s true the virus appears mostly harmless, the possible connection between the virus and neurological disorders in newborns has the WHO and other health organizations worried that there may be more to Zika than meets the eye. Add the fact that the virus has spread at an explosive rate with no known vaccine or treatment and you have the makings for an epidemic of catastrophic proportions. But try not to worry. Again, individuals that seem truly at risk are the unborn children of infected mothers. The evidence is sparse as of yet with a few studies showing the Zika virus in the placenta and amniotic fluid of mothers, as well as in the brains of newborns5,6. Whether or not Zika is a true threat still remains a mystery, and until we find out, pregnant women should still take a cautionary approach to traveling to affected areas. As more information comes out and new data is in hand, we at BIOLITICS will be here to keep you up to date.

 

Barbados El Salvador Jamaica Surname
Bolivia French Guiana Martinique U.S. Virgin Islands
Colombia Guadeloupe Mexico Venezuela
CostaRica Guatemala Nicaragua American Samoa
Curaçao Guyana Panama Samoa
Dominican Republic Haiti Paraguay Tonga
Ecuador Honduras Saint Martin Cape Verde

 

Works Cited

  1. Pearson, M. Zika virus sparks ‘public health emergency.’ com (Feb 2, 2016) http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/01/health/zika-virus-public-health-emergency/index.html
  2. Schuler-Faccini, L. Ribeiro, EM. Feitosa, IM. Horovitz, DD. et al. Possible Association Between Zika Virus Infection and Microcephaly – Brazil, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep (2016) 65(3):59-62
  3. Butler, D. Zika virus: Brazil’s surge in small-headed babies questioned by report. Nature (2016) 530(7588):13-4
  4. Lopez-Camelo and Orioli. ECLAMC Final Document. (2015) http://www.nature.com/polopoly_fs/7.33594!/file/NS-724-2015_ECLAMC-ZIKA%20VIRUS_V-FINAL_012516.pdf
  5. Oliviera, AS. Malinger, G. Ximenes, R. Szejnfeld, PO. et al. Zika virus intrauterine infection causes fetal brain abnormality and microcephaly: tip of the ice berg? Ultrasound in Obstertrics and Gynecology (2016) 47(1):6-7
  6. Lucy, DR. and Gostin, LO. The Emerging Zika Pandemic: Enhancing Prepardness. The Journal of the American Medical Association (2016) doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.0904
  7. Peterson, E. Wilson, ME. Touch, S. et al. Unexpected and Rapid Spread of Zika Virus in The Americas – Implications for Public Health Preparedness for Mass Gatherings at the 2016 Brazil Olympic Games. International Journal of Infectious Diseases (2016) doi:10.1016.02.001
  8. Kelser, EA. Meet dengue’s cousin, Zika. Microbes and Infection (2015) S1286-4579(15)00259-2
  9. Hayes, EB. Zika Virus Outside Africa. Emerg Infect Dis. (2009) 15(9):1347-1350
  10. Areas with Zika. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016) http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/
  11. Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016) http://www.cdc.gov/zika/symptoms/
  12. Zika Virus. World Health Organization (2016) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/
  13. Featured Image Credit (of Mosquito): TBO (The Tampa Tribune) from the following article: http://www.tbo.com/health/ebola/scott-declares-zika-health-emergency-for-hillsborough-3-other-counties-20160203/

 

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