Zika Virus Reaches Pandemic Levels in Central, South America
Zika virus is native to Africa and is spread through the daytime feeding activities of Aedes mosquitoes. Its name comes from the Zika Forest in Uganda where the virus was first isolated in the 1940s. Like dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile, the Zika virus is transmitted through the feeding habits of female mosquitoes.
The virus causes few, or otherwise very mild, symptoms and is usually treated by rest. Historically, Zika virus has afflicted the narrow equatorial belt which spans from Africa to Asia. In 2014, however, the virus made its way across the Pacific Ocean to Polynesia, Easter Island, and eventually to Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.
Very recently, Zika virus has reached pandemic levels in some areas of South America. In fact, as of February 14th of this year, Hawaii governor David Ige declared a state of emergency in an attempt to fight the joint outbreaks of Zika virus and dengue fever. According to the CDC, Hawaii’s mosquito control and entomology staff was significantly decreased during the economic recession, and, at this time, the state is scrambling to acquire funding to rebuild their mosquito-fighting capabilities. Government officials stress that Hawaii is still a safe to visits, and add that tourism is already off to a strong start in 2016.
Common symptoms associated with Zika virus include mild headaches, topical rashes, fever, malaise, conjunctivitis, and joint pains. Typically, symptoms of the virus begin fading within two to three days. The illness has traditionally been viewed as fairly mild and actually only manifests in one out of five bitten hosts.
At time of writing, no vaccine or preventative drug is available, but aspirin, along with rest, fluids, and other anti-inflammatory drugs are recommended to ease symptoms.
In February of this year, new evidence has come to light suggesting that Zika fever in pregnant women can cause abnormal brain development in fetuses by mother-to-child transition, which can potentially result in a miscarriage or microcephaly.
Due to the unprecedented rate of infection in new geographical areas, the CDC has issued travel guidelines for pregnant women, urging them to consider postponing travel to these areas. In areas where the spread of infection is more pronounced, such as in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Jamaica, officials have advised women to avoid getting pregnant until more information about the risks is discovered.
Likewise, new evidence suggests that Zika virus can possibly be transmitted sexually. Three cases of males transmitting the virus to their female partners have been documented thus far. Naturally, this is troubling news for women already living in high-risk countries, and because of the subtle symptoms of the virus, many men may not even know they’ve been infected before engaging in sexual activity with their partners.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infections, work has begun in the United States on a vaccine for Zika virus, though experts suggest that it way take 1 to 2 years to formulate an effective preventative vaccine, and another 10 years before it can be approved for public use. Considering the rapid spread of the virus, it’s unclear if government efforts to formulate a vaccine will be effective.