Zika Virus Puts World On Alert

Feb 1, 2016 By Deepa Gopal
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In 2012, it was the MERS virus that had the world on alert. In 2014, it was Ebola. Now, in 2016, it appears to be the turn of the Zika.

The World Health Organization (WHO) held an emergency meeting on Monday and has classified the outbreak as a global threat.

More than 25 countries and territories have reported Zika cases. The virus may be responsible for causing birth defects in new-born babies in Brazil. Some countries such as El Salvador, Jamaica, and Colombia have advised women to avoid getting pregnant for two years until the virus is contained.

What Is Zika?

Zika is a virus that is transmitted from one person to another through the bite of the Aedes mosquito. The Aedes mosquito is found in the tropical regions of our world - Africa, South-east Asia and South America (except Chile). The mosquito is also found in Florida and states along the US Gulf coast. However, the Zika virus has not crossed into the US.

Zika was first observed in rhesus monkeys living in Uganda's Zika forest in 1947. The virus was detected in humans in Uganda and Tanzania in 1952, but it largely stayed confined to the African continent. Zika started spreading slowly through Asia, and since 2007, has been causing havoc in the islands of the South Pacific. 

The virus itself causes mild fever, rashes, and joint pain. But the complications from it can be concerning. Zika started making headlines in Brazil after the country reported an unusual increase in babies born with microcephaly.

Microcephaly is a development disorder that causes infants to be born with small heads. These babies can grow up to have developmental disorders, learning disabilities, and hearing problems. It turned out the mothers who had these babies had complained of a rash from a viral fever within the first three months of their pregnancy. However, the connection between Zika and Microcephaly is yet to be proven.

Containing The Spread

The story of the spread of the virus is the story of globalization. It is believed that the virus reached Brazil from Asia, carried by travelers from the Pacific islands for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Zika needs the Aedes mosquito (a vector) to be transmitted, and Brazil was already a ripe ground for the Aedes mosquito. With Brazil set to host the 2016 Olympics, as you can imagine there is a lot of concern. Brazil has launched a massive fumigation campaign to eradicate mosquitoes.

The WHO has warned travelers to be cautious while traveling to Zika-affected countries and has asked pregnant women to postpone their plans. Currently, there is no vaccine for this virus. For now, cleaning up places where mosquitoes can breed, and protecting oneself with mosquito repellents can go a long way towards prevention.