Zika virus spreads across the globe

by Prameela Kottapalli, Reporter

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified over one million global cases of the Zika virus, and as of Feb. 17th, 82 cases were confirmed in the United States.

The Zika Virus first appeared in Africa, initially isolated in the Zika Forest of Uganda in 1948. Since then, the mosquito-borne disease has surfaced in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. From May 2015, the virus has spread rapidly in Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

While occasionally transferred through sexual intercourse or blood transfusion, the virus is normally transmitted via the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito.

Virginia Tabios, senior nurse at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Santa Clara Clinic, suggested ways for those traveling to Zika-infected regions to avoid the mosquitoes that carry the disease.

“Travelers to these areas should stay in screened or air conditioned rooms especially during the times when the mosquitoes are most active– during the early morning hours and around sunset,” Tabios advised. “Wearing long pants, long sleeves, shoes, hats and insect repellent at all times is imperative.”

This is the first Zika Virus outbreak of such a large scale. According to the CDC, 180 instances were reported in 2007 in Micronesia, and in 2012, the virus infected around one-tenth of the population in French Polynesia.

All cases reported in the United States are travel-associated. Those affected by the disease left the country and returned before the onset of the symptoms, which take 2-12 days to manifest.

There is no cure for the disease, yet in most instances, those infected experience either no symptoms or mild ones that last anywhere from a few days to a week. These nominal symptoms include moderate fever, headaches, rashes, muscle and joint aches, irritability and temporary conjunctivitis.

Many students traveled to Zika-infected areas in Mexico and Central America during break. Viveka Saraiya (9), who visited Cancún, Mexico over winter vacation, described her experience interacting with people concerned about the spread of the disease.

“I could tell that people were somewhat scared,” she said. “The virus was a topic of many worried discussions I heard.”

According to the World Health Organization, recent surges of disease in Brazil indicate that the infection may trigger Microcephaly and Guillain Barré Syndrome.

Babies with Microcephaly, a severe birth defect, are born with underdeveloped brains and cannot be cured. During the outbreak in Brazil, many problems in pregnant women with the Zika Virus were reported, including newborns being delivered with Microcephaly. Brazilian scientists are investigating various cases of this disease, but whether or not there is a definitive link between Microcephaly and the Zika Virus is inconclusive.

After the Zika Virus outbreak in Brazil as well the 2013 flare-up in French Polynesia, the number of reported cases of Guillain Barré Syndrome increased. The syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that targets the nervous system, resulting in paralysis. Researchers from health organizations are examining the association between the two illnesses.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is responding to the outbreak by providing Zika-infected countries with resources to manage patients and to contain the disease.

American scientists are currently investigating the effects of the virus to determine what efforts can be made to halt the spread of the infection within the United States.