For several weeks, health officials in Florida, together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have been investigating some cases that seemed to have been acquired from local mosquitoes.
Zika virus was discovered in the 1940s, but most people had never heard of it until few years ago. That’s mainky because for decades, Zika outbreaks were sporadic and the disease seemed to do little harm.
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in monkeys through a network that monitored yellow fever. It was later identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. Outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
From the 1960s to 1980s, human infections were found across Africa and Asia, typically accompanied by mild illness.
On July 19, officials announced that a woman living in Florida, had tested positive for the mosquito-borne and sexually transmitted virus. But unlike all of the other Zika cases reported in the US at the time, she had no travel history to a country with the virus presence.
Things changed in 2015.
First, it made its way from Africa to a series of tiny islands in Micronesia. Then it bounced through the Pacific Ocean to Easter Island, off the coast of Chile. From there, it was on to Brazil.
Now Zika has infected people in more than 20 countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean.A massive outbreak in Brazil altered the scientific community’s view of the mosquito-borne virus. Scientists learned that Zika can actually be a lot more dangerous than anyone thought, causing devastating birth defects in fetuses.
In light of that, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency on February 1 this year.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Zika doesn’t even cause symptoms in most people
In an announcement about the emergency declaration, the WHO director general explained that it’s really Zika’s link with microcephaly, a condition that causes babies’ brains and heads to stop growing, that prompted the PHEIC.
So the Zika declaration will be the fourth PHEIC in history. It’s also the first time the WHO has issued such a warning over a mosquito-borne disease.
2.Infection with Zika during pregnancy is linked to birth defects in babies
Zika virus can pass from a mother to the fetus during pregnancy, but this is unsure of how often this occurs. There have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant.
Because of the possible association between Zika infection and microcephaly, pregnant women should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites.
3.Zika virus is spread through bites from infected Aedes mosquitoes
People primarily contract the virus from the bites of infected mosquitoes, known as Aedes aegypti. These are found globally in tropical and subtropical regions and are the main reason for the virus rapid spread.
These mosquitoes also transmit the dengue and chikungunya viruses. They breed in water-filled containers and ponds, and are particularly active during dawn and dusk. They become infected when they bite an infected individual, taking in blood that includes the virus, and then pass the virus on when they bite another person.
4.Symptoms of infection are usually mild
Most of the people who become infected never have symptoms. In those who do, the most common virus symptoms are fever and rash; it can also cause muscle and joint pain, headache, pain behind the eyes, and sometimes conjunctivitis.
Health experts at the WHO Regional Office for the Americas note that symptoms generally last two to seven days. Rare complications can include internal bleeding and even death.
No effective treatment is available for Zika infection, but over-the-counter fever or pain medication can be helpful for symptom relief.
5. Wide range of transmission
- From mother to child. A pregnant mother can pass the Zika virus to her fetus while she is pregnant.
- Through sexual contact. The virus can be spread by a man to his sex partners.
- Through blood transfusion. There have been a large number of blood transfusion cases in Brazil and the virus has been found in blood donors in other countries also.
- Through laboratory exposure. There have been four reports of laboratory acquired Zika virus infections.
Knowing these 5 facts about Zika virus you can protect yourself, limit your travelling to the infected areas and have the basic knowledge about it. Don’t forget also to read all public notices and be aware of any plans you have in the enlisted areas.
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