Zika virus causes concern



Babies who are born to mothers with the Zika Virus are at a high risk for having microcephaly.

Melanie Shor, News Editor

As the Zika Virus spreads throughout the globe, the once dormant infection has now captured the world’s attention.

Before 2015, the virus had only been found in specific areas of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands; however, this infection has recently spread to numerous countries in the South and North American regions, especially Brazil and Mexico.

Here in the U.S., cases of the virus have been confirmed in Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all of these cases have been associated with travel and not locally acquired.

However, there is concern that an outbreak is very possible in the U.S. in the near future. Many researchers say that the Aedes mosquito, which is responsible for the Zika virus, usually resides in tropical environments, putting Southern states at a higher risk. Also, there has been an increase in mosquito-related illnesses such as dengue fever and chikungunya which can be transmitted from the Aedes mosquito as well.

The reason this infection has so many worried, especially pregnant women, is because of the birth defect that can occur with the illness. As the number of Zika cases rise, so does the number of babies born with microcephaly. This defect causes babies’ brains to not develop properly resulting in a much smaller head compared to the average baby. Not only is the head size affected, but other problems such as seizures, intellectual disability, hearing loss, and vision problems may arise too.

Primarily, this virus is transmitted through mosquito bites from infected mosquitos, but other forms have been reported. Some other common ways of spreading the illness are through blood transfusion and sexual contact. Rarely, a mother can pass it on to her newborn, but the mother must be infected very close to the time of birth.

The most common symptoms associated with the infection include rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, or red eyes. Others that have been reported are muscle pain and headache. In most cases, the symptoms only last a few days to a week and are relatively mild, but the virus remains in the blood of the ill person for a week or longer.

Doctors can diagnose the disease through specialized blood tests similar to those of other mosquito-borne infections. In addition, to treat the virus, medical providers recommend for people to rest, drink plenty of fluids, take medicine such as Tylenol to relieve fever and pain, and avoid aspirins or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Although there is no vaccine that can help prevent someone from acquiring Zika, there are precautions one can take to avoid a possible infection. The CDC advises people visiting countries where the virus is found to stay indoors as much as possible; however, when outside, they recommend wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, applying insect repellent, and using mosquito nets if sleeping.

The World Health Organization met on February 1st and have declared that this virus meets the conditions required to issue a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, but have not placed any restrictions on travel or trade.

As the infection continues to spread, people should take proper precaution and be aware of the symptoms in order to help prevent a widespread epidmeic.