Discovering the Zika Virus
How it works
In 1947 the Zika virus was first identified in the monkeys of Uganda. Five years later the virus was found again, this time in humans. From then on countries reported small instances of illnesses including rashes, which turn out to be the Zika infection, up until 2007 when the virus had its first major outbreak on an island called Yep. The virus can cause major neurological problems, and after a 2015 outbreak in Brazil the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus to be a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” As of now a total of 86 countries have reported signs of the Zika infection.
According to specialists the Zika virus was first transmitted to humans from a mosquito genus called Aedes. These are the same kind of mosquitoes that carrying dengue and chikungunya and are known to feed in the daytime or early evening. After the original infection the virus can be transmitted in number of ways. Pregnant women can spread it the their fetus, and in some cases this causes congenital birth defects. The virus can also be spread through sexual contact and there is reason to believe the Zika virus can be spread through contact with blood or blood transfusion though there are no instances documented in the United States, however, there is evidence of the spread through platelet transfusion in Brazil. With this knowledge it is also reasonable to assume that it may be transmitted through organ donation but again there is insufficient evidence to back this claim.
How it works
This infection is hard to recognize as the Zika virus because the symptoms are either mild or non-existent in most of those infected. If symptoms are present they include fever, rash, conjunctivitis (eye inflammation), muscle/joint pain, fatigue and/or headache. This illness has a latency period of 3 to 14 days and symptoms can last up to a week. The symptoms are so similar to a common fever, as well as dengue and chikungunya that is hard to discern what the patient might be suffering from. The only way to confirm the Zika infection is to have laboratory test done. In order to verify the illness doctors must run blood test or test other bodily fluids such as urine or semen.
To prevent contraction of this disease there are few precautions to be taken, however, there is no way to inoculate or vaccinate in order to stop the virus. Those who live in countries that are known to have mosquitos that carry the virus are told to take several different precautions — wearing light colored clothes to cover as much skin as possible, keeping windows covered and doors closed, as well as using insect repellent. Pregnant women and children are also told to sleep under insect nets if they are going to sleep during the day. Aedes mosquitos are known to breed in small collections of standing water, therefore people are told to cover their water storage containers and remove water from any place it could collect, such as flower pots. To prevent sexual transmission those in danger are told to practice correct and regularly safe sex or to abstain all together, and women who fear for the dangers of becoming ill while pregnant are advised to use some form of contraception.
As of now there are no known treatments to completely eradicate the virus. Those patients that do show symptoms are told to treat themselves as if they had the flu; rest, drinking lots of fluids to keep hydrated, take acetaminophen to reduce fever but to not take common NSAIDs (asprin, other blood thinners). Pregnant women are urged to seek professional medical attention to monitor their pregnancy and judge the health of the baby, unfortunately there is no way to know for sure if or how the virus will affect the fetus and no way to prevent complications.
The main concern when the virus is contracted is for pregnant women and their babies. Infection during pregnancy can effect the fetus and cause the baby to be born with any number of neurological congenital defects. Most commonly the newborn is afflicted with microcephaly but the virus cause other problems which is known as Congenital Zika Infection. With this defect comes limb contracture, high muscle tone, eye abnormalities or hearing loss. It is unknown how many pregnancies are actually affected by the virus but it is estimated at 5-15% of those where the mother has been infected. Along with the dangers to pregnancies, it is also possible the virus can trigger a number of neurological problems in adults and children, some of these being Guillain-Barre, neuropathy, or myelitis.
Because the knowledge of the Zika virus is so limited and some of the long term effects still undetermined people were very fearful when the outbreak in Brazil occurred. It just so happened that the 2016 Olympic Games were scheduled to occur in Brazil around that time and it almost caused major panic among the athletes, with many of them refusing to participate or countries providing expensive safety-wear as best they could. In response to the potential hazards caused by so many people traveling internationally for the Olympics the WHO advanced their research in prevention and control of the virus as well as surveillance. They also strengthened laboratories and support in global efforts to control Aedes mosquito populations. At this point in time there is no cure, no vaccine, and no known prevention of the virus but the World Health Organization has, and continues to, put extensive time and effort into finding answers.
- Zika Virus. (2017, August 28). Retrieved January 13, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/zika/about/overview.html
- Zika virus. (2018, July 20). Retrieved January 13, 2019, from https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/zika-virus
- Lewnard, J. A., Gonsalves, G., & Ko, A. I. (2016, August 16). Low Risk of International Zika Virus Spread due to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Retrieved January 13, 2019, from http://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2538663/low-risk-international-zika-virus-spread-due-2016-olympics-brazil