Talks of the Zika Virus continue to grow, with the World Health Organization declaring it a "public health emergency of international concern.” But what exactly is the Zika Virus?
Cindy Robertson, the Infection Prevention director at CoxHealth, explains.
“The Zika Virus is a single-stranded RNA virus. It is closely related to Dengue, Yellow Fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile Virus, and it is transmitted to humans by the Aedes species mosquito.”
This particular virus has captured the world’s attention as rates of infection have skyrocketed in Brazil, bringing up thoughts of the Ebola epidemic to hit West Africa last summer.
Robertson explains that Zika has been around for some time.
“This virus was actually first identified in Uganda in 1947, and after 1947 there were just little sporadic cases here and there. Then in 2007 is when the first outbreak…started and presented in the Federated States of Micronesia.”
After this, more cases spread across the globe. Throughout 2013 and into 2014, over 28,000 suspected cases in French Polynesia were reported, leading up to the 2015 outbreak in Brazil that continues today. Many suspect that a traveler to the World Cup held in Brazil first introduced the virus into the local population.
The virus is spread from mosquito to human, but it did not originate from the Aedes species of mosquito’s itself.
“It’s started by monkeys” says Robertson, “so the primates were how it originally started, and then they were bitten by the mosquito, who would then bite a human being.”
The main reason why Zika has caused so much unease is its possible link to birth defects in babies whose mothers contracted the virus while pregnant. In Brazil, there were a heightened number of reported cases of microcephaly, a condition in which the baby’s head is abnormally small. There was also reported cases Guillain–Barré syndrome being linked to Zika, which is when a person’s immune system retaliates and damages nerve cells.
Yet Robertson says there is not enough evidence for Guillain-Barré to be linked to Zika yet, and as for microcephaly, “(the CDC) is still in the process of collecting data and trying to understand how that is being transferred.”
The symptoms of Zika include “a rash, fever, joint pain, conjunctivitis, headache, sometimes orbital pain, and usually associated in the United States with recent travel to areas affected by the Zika Virus outbreak” according to Robertson.
So far Zika has spread northward from South America and into the Virgin Islands, which has caused citizens there to call hospitals about the virus’s possible risks. It seems to be the “question of the day” as Robertson puts it, considering that the CDC has yet to release odds on whether an outbreak will occur within the United States. However, as of January 26th, the first case was recorded within Arkansas, and other cases have been reported in Virginia, Texas, and most recently in Florida These cases are linked to people who have recently traveled to Zika infected areas.
That being said, Robertson asserts that there isn’t much of a risk so far of a full outbreak in the U.S., let alone in Springfield, Missouri. She explains that “right now in the winter months of Missouri, we don’t see many mosquitos out.” Yet she says that as we get closer to the summer months, the more likely it is for Zika to spread.
Precautions include hand washing, wearing long sleeve shirts when outside in the daytime - since that’s when mosquitos are most active - use insect repellent, and eliminate standing water where mosquitos lay their eggs.
For more information about the Zika virus, visit http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html