The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued an important warning: the Zika virus, transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, has reached at least 15 countries in the Americas according to the data verified so far.
What’s most worrisome is that today, according to most national health institutions, there is no specific treatment developed to counter the effects of the virus. But through adequate prevention measures and having all the available information available at your fingertips, hopefully more people can protect themselves appropriately.
According to most doctors, Zika usually causes a rash and fever. Only people who have a weakened immune system are at risk of dying from this virus.
The problem currently is a far more disturbing effect: the virus itself can affect babies in the womb and cause serious birth defects.
In today’s article we’ll give you all the information you need.
What is the Zika virus?
Zika virus is very similar to dengue and yellow fever. It originated from a region of Uganda known as Zika, hence the name it was given once this previously unknown virus, which also affects monkeys, was discovered.
The discovery was made in 1947 but it wasn’t until 2007 when the virus “made the leap” to humans and affected about 8,000 people on an island in Micronesia, in the Pacific Ocean.
At the time, the most common symptoms of the virus were a serious rash, joint pain, and fatigue.
But if the 2007 outbreak occurred due to transmission from Africa to Micronesia, there have been changes in the virus between that time and 2015 when more worrying effects began to be observed in the Americas, including the development of microcephaly in newborns.
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Today’s Zika virus is different
- The Pasteur Institute in Guyana is carrying out studies on the Zika virus, where they are analyzing this pathogen that has now spread through much of the Americas.
- Although it may affect millions of people every year, the Zika virus only causes death in rare cases: when people have other respiratory diseases, infectious diseases, serious heart disease, or fatigue.
- What is causing the current levels of alarm is what we mentioned at the start of this article – the current state of the Zika virus affects fetuses, causing microcephaly.
- According to the European Center for Disease Prevention, between 2010 and 2014 there were between 150 and 200 cases of microcephaly discovered in Brazil. That statistic becomes extremely alarming when you consider that in 2015 there were 3,895 cases.
- The current strain of the Zika virus comes from an Asian genotype and is no longer related to the first known strain that emerged from Zika, Uganda.
The history of the virus that affects the Americas today has been clearly mapped. This leads to a hope for a treatment and a vaccine soon.
How is the Zika virus transmitted?You are most likely to contract the Zika virus if you’re bitten by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
It’s not enough to simply apply repellent or avoid standing water around your house, however. Bear in mind that the current form of the virus can also be transmitted in the following ways:
- Sexual transmission (the virus remains in the sperm for a long time)
- Perinatal infection from mother to fetus through the bloodstream, although it should be mentioned that it cannot be transferred through breast milk
Symptoms of the Zika virus
After being bitten by an infected mosquito it can take between two and seven days to begin to experience the first symptoms. But remember that only one out of every four people will contract the disease.
The main symptoms include:
- Itching and a skin rash
One easy way to distinguish the Zika virus from allergies or another type of skin reaction is the presence of severe muscle pain and fatigue.
Neurological or autoimmune complications are rare but have been recorded in recent months in Brazil.
Zika virus and pregnant womenAs you can probably see, the current alarm that the Zika virus is raising lies within the worrisome number of children who are being born with microcephaly.
This higher risk category for contracting the virus now includes women who are currently pregnant or who are trying to, and who reside in countries or regions with reported cases.
Today, those countries include the following:
Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin Island, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Barbados, Panama, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay.
The epidemiological bulletin of Brazil has recorded the most cases to date and they’re already investing the relationship of the virus to the deaths of 46 babies this year.
Additionally, in early January the first death in the United States of a newborn was reported so, for now, the problem continues to be growing.
I’m pregnant, what I can do?
The recommendations so far from outside the Americas have been clear and obvious: if you are pregnant, don’t travel to any of the countries mentioned above.
But…what about all the pregnant women who live in those countries?
Doctors have asked that these women take the following precautions:
- Wear long sleeves and pants to avoid getting bitten by a mosquito.
- Use insect repellent.
- Avoid having areas around the home that collect stagnant water, including potted plants, and control any areas where moisture exists and insects can concentrate. Sleep with a mosquito net.
- The WHO recommends that all pregnant women or those who are trying to get pregnant see their doctors for regular checkups and stay informed at all times.
Reasons why the Zika virus causes birth defectsAs we indicated above, Brazil has experienced the bulk of the severe side effects of the Zika virus, including microcephaly in infants. It is there that numerous studies are now being carried out to determine the causes and possible treatments for the disease.
- The risk of microcephaly and other birth defects has been associated with an infection caused by the Zika virus during the first trimester of pregnancy.
- Microcephaly is a very rare condition that’s either genetic or caused by exposure to environmental agents (either toxic or infectious).
- Children born with this defect have a much smaller head circumference than normal, which hinders their development. They may suffer from seizures, difficulty with feeding, and even risk dying within their first few days of life.
- Today there is no specific treatment for microcephaly.
I’m pregnant: how can I find out if my baby has microcephaly?
Microcephaly can be diagnosed in the womb through prenatal ultrasound. But to do this accurately, you must wait until the third trimester, and even these results are not always reliable.
The diagnosis is usually made after delivery. There are different degrees of severity for microcephaly and some children, with adequate support, may go on to live a more or less normal life.
Nevertheless, microcephaly is nearly always associated with some kind of learning disability.
ConclusionsZika virus and the associated warning is currently in effect across 18 countries and territories across Latin America, and this could soon be extended to 20.
The latest news is that Zika virus is getting closer to Jamaica and the Caribbean in general. Medical institutions are recommending that women delay pregnancy as much as possible during the current outbreak and protect themselves from mosquitoes.
It’s important that you see a doctor if you suspect you’re experiencing the symptoms of Zika virus, and don’t hesitate to follow all of their recommendations. Currently, research has been able to track where the virus is, where it originated from, and how it spreads, so there is hope for a vaccine soon.
With more information, behavioral changes, and the support of medical professionals and researchers we will be able to overcome the Zika virus outbreak.