Zika virus is caused by a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. These mosquitoes are also responsible for the transmission of dengue fever, chikungunya virus and yellow fever. The virus was discovered in 1947 in the Zika forest in Uganda and it is present in Africa, the Americas, South Asia and the Western Pacific.
How is Zika Virus transmitted?
Zika virus is transmitted through mosquito bites of the Aedes origin. Once the mosquito has bitten an individual, the virus is injected into their system. It is suspected that the disease can also be transmitted through transfusion of blood and sexual contact. A case has been recently reported in Texas of an individual who has been infected with the virus through sexual contact with a partner that had returned from Latin America.
What are the symptoms associated with Zika Virus?
Those affected by the disease may have fever, a rash, muscle and joint pain, as well as conjunctivitis. The symptoms tend to last for a few days, at most a week and are not particularly significant in terms of intensity.
What is the Zika Virus a feared disease?
An epidemic of Zika Virus disease has broken out in South America and in more than 24 other countries. The disease is not feared through the spread of the virus but rather the virus’s associated with microcephaly and Guillan-Barre syndrome.
As explained by Dr. Michele Lagioia, a medical director at Humanitas, it is not the first time that the Zika virus has broken out: “It has happened before; however, the outbreaks were limited in number of cases and geographical spread. In this case, an alarm was raised for connection between Zika Virus and microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome in Latin America, which are two conditions generally with a lower prevalence.”
The cases of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome in Brazil
At the same time the epidemic of Zika virus broke out in Brazil, there has been an increase in cases of children born with microcephaly: the suspicion being that contracting the disease during pregnancy could endanger the health of the fetus . Children with microcephaly have a smaller head than normal infants, with possible brain development abnormalities.
Brazilian health authorities have reported an increase in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disease in which an autoimmune response damages the peripheral nervous system. The World Health Organization intervene to verify the possible links between these conditions: “It is good that the authorities have intervened promptly so that the evolution of the epidemic could be monitored more thoroughly and useful data can be collected to prepare all world health centers for treatment of the Zika Virus, an infection in itself severe” explains the Dr. Lagioia.
How can the Zika Virus be prevented?
There is currently a vaccine against the Zika virus. It is advised to implement the usual precautionary measures against insect bites.Particular attention should be paid to women who are pregnant, from whom it is not recommended to travel in already affected countries and those deemed at risk. It is also advised to avoid having unprotected sex with individuals who live or have been involved in Latin American countries.
Dr. Lagioia stresses that “the epidemic of Zika virus is limited to the presence of the specific carrier of the virus or the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. If it were not for these mosquitoes to continue to transmit the virus, spreading of the virus would be unlikely.”