Zika virus is a member of the Flaviviridae virus family and the Flavivirus genus and spread to people through mosquito bites. These mosquitoes are the same ones that spread dengue and chikungunya virus. However, unlike the mosquitoes that spread malaria (Anopheles mosquito), they are mostly active during the day, so bed nets offer limited protection against the virus. Zika virus has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brain which is a really worrying situation.
The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon and deaths are rare (CDC). There is no vaccine as of yet for this virus with only advice from doctors is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Only one in five people infected are thought to develop symptoms. However, the biggest concern about this virus is its effect on unborn babies in the womb and its link to microcephaly.
According to CDC, microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. Microcephaly is condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. During pregnancy, a baby’s head grows because the baby’s brain grows. Microcephaly can occur because a baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy or has stopped growing after birth, which results in a smaller head size. Microcephaly can be an isolated condition, meaning that it can occur with no other major birth defects, or it can occur in combination with other major birth defects. Babies with microcephaly can have a range of other problems, depending on how severe their microcephaly is. Microcephaly has been linked with problems which include seizures, hearing loss, vision problems, and developmental delay such as problems with speech, intellectual disability, problems with movement and balance and feeding problems, such as difficulty swallowing.
It can be caused by infections such as rubella, Toxoplasmosis, Cytomegalovirus, substance abuse during pregnancy or genetic abnormalities. Although the link with Zika virus has not been confirmed, but some babies who died had the virus in their brain and it has been detected in placenta and amniotic fluid too.
It was first identified in monkeys (rhesus macaque) in Zika Forest of Uganda in 1947. The first human case was detected in Nigeria in 1954 and isolated from humans during studies conducted in 1968 and 1971–1975 with outbreaks in some part of Africa, South East Asia and the Pacific Islands since then. Most were small and Zika has not previously been considered a major threat to human health. But in May 2015 it was reported in Brazil and has seen spread rapidly. Brazil had fewer than 150 cases of microcephaly in the whole of 2014, but there have been more than 3,500 reported cases since October. It has since also been reported in Barbados, Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname and Venezuela. The US National Institute of Health said that it is currently an explosive pandemic re-emergence. WHO expects Zika virus to spread throughout the Americas, however, other scientists have warned that the outbreak could reach Asia countries.
As a preventive measure, the CDC has advised pregnant women not to travel to affected areas. People are also adviced to use insect repellents, cover up with long-sleeved clothes and keep windows and doors closed.