Source: PTI graphics
In recent months, the Zika virus has begun to spread across Latin America. First appearing in Brazil in May 2015, the Zika virus has rapidly surged into other areas of South America. According to the Pan American Health Organization, the Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites, and over twenty countries including the United States have reported cases of the virus. Since the number of people infected is rapidly increasing, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global health emergency. So what exactly is the Zika virus, and why are people so afraid of this epidemic?
The Zika virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947. Scientists confirmed the human infection in both Uganda and Tanzania, but the virus was isolated to Africa in 1968. The virus was first widely introduced to the world with the ongoing outbreak in Brail on April, 2015. Since then, WHO and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) have started monitoring the spread of the disease and are working on ways to check Zika virus.
The average incubation period of the Zika virus is known to be between 2 and 7 days. Only 1 in 5 people develop symptoms, such as, a fever of less than 39° C, headache, muscle and joint pain, and inflammation in hands and feet.
Source: ADAM, WHO
On the other hand, there is a more critical reason that scientists warn people to beware of the virus. According to WHO’s report, pregnant women who are infected with Zika virus have high possibility of giving birth to infants with microcephaly, a symptom of babies born with abnormally small head. “Infants born with microcephaly are prone to have delayed cognitive and motor (physical) development”, said Bill Martin, a Biology teacher in Pomfret School. He further commented that,“Microcephaly can influence the brain’s development, which can lead to learning disabilities and mental retardation. When the symptom gets worse, infants can experience epilepsy and cerebral palsy, a condition which can cause limbs and muscle to be permanently weaken”.
Even though the Zika virus was identified a couple decades ago, there is modicum amount of information about it. To prevent further spread of the virus in the United States, the WHO is recommending against travel to South America. For those who are in local areas where the Zika virus is already prevalent, the use of nets and insect repellants is highly advised to prevent possible contact between mosquitoes and humans.
Bill Martin pointed out that,“the cause of the spread of the virus is the presence of wet-lands, swamps, and the tropical climate”. He also recommended “installing nets with insecticide around the bed and wearing long-sleeve clothes when traveling during the day”.
When the CDC first identified a case in which the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted in Texas, there were some doubts and unclear explanation for the case. According to WHO, there are no commercially available tests for Zika virus disease. Since the studies on sexual transmission is not easy and requires much resources, the claim that Zika virus can spread though sexual transmission is ungrounded.
According to Bill Martin, “Just because a virus is detected in human’s saliva or blood does not necessarily mean that the infected person can transmit the virus to others. Researchers are merely finding the evidence of the virus, but they cannot identify what the presence of the virus indicates”.
In order to check the spread of the virus, a definite diagnostic test that can accurately detect the contagiousness should be developed as soon as possible.
Youngjae (Aaron) Kim
Youngjae (Aaron) Kim firstname.lastname@example.org
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