5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ZIKA VIRUS
ZIKA VIRUS – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW!
A relatively new mosquito-borne virus is prompting worldwide concern because of an alarming connection to a neurological birth disorder and the rapid spread of the virus across the globe.
The Zika virus, transmitted by the aggressive Aedes aegypti mosquito, has now spread to at least 24 countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning pregnant women against travel to those areas; health officials in several of those countries are telling female citizens to avoid becoming pregnant, in some cases for up to two years.
The U.S. Defense Department is offering voluntary relocation to pregnant employees and their beneficiaries who are stationed in affected areas.
“That’s a pandemic in progress,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. “It isn’t as if it’s turning around and dying out, it’s getting worse and worse as the days go by.”
Here are five important things to know:
1. What is Zika and why is it so serious?
The Zika virus is a flavivirus, part of the same family as yellow fever, West Nile, chikungunya and dengue. But unlike some of those viruses, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika or medicine to treat the infection.
Zika is commanding worldwide attention because of an alarming connection between the virus and microcephaly, a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads. This causes severe developmental issues and sometimes death.
Since November, Brazil has seen 4,180 cases of microcephaly in babies born to women who were infected with Zika during their pregnancies. To put that in perspective, there were only 146 cases in 2014. So far, 51 babies have died.
Other Latin American countries are now seeing cases in newborns as well, while in the United States one Hawaiian baby was born with microcephaly linked to the Zika virus after his mother returned from Brazil. Several states have confirmed the virus in individuals who traveled to areas where the virus is circulating, including Illinois, where health officials are monitoring two infected pregnant women.
The CDC is asking OB-GYNs to review fetal ultrasounds and do maternal testing for any pregnant woman who has traveled to one of the 24 countries where Zika is currently active.
A smaller outbreak of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that can lead to life-threatening paralysis, is also linked to Zika in a several countries.
2. How is Zika spread?
The virus is transmitted when an Aedes mosquito bites a person with an active infection and then spreads the virus by biting others. Those people then become carriers during the time they have symptoms.
In most people, symptoms of the virus are mild, including fever, headache, rash and possible pink eye. In fact, 80% of those infected never know they have the disease. That’s especially concerning for pregnant women, as this virus has now been shown to pass through amniotic fluid to the growing baby.
“What we now know,” said Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, “is that fetuses can be infected with the virus. That’s not new for infectious diseases, but it is new for this virus.”
“This is a very remarkable and unusual situation,” agreed Fauci, “because the other flaviviruses don’t do that to our knowledge. You just don’t see that with dengue or West Nile or chikungunya.”
In addition, the CDC says there have been documented cases of virus transmission during labor, blood transfusion, laboratory exposure and sexual contact. While Zika has been found in breast milk, it’s not yet confirmed it can be passed to the baby through nursing.
There have been only two documented cases linking Zika to sex. During the 2013 Zika outbreak in French Polynesia, semen and urine samples from a 44-year-old Tahitian man tested positive for Zika even when blood samples did not. Five years before that, in 2008, a Colorado microbiologist named Brian Foy contracted Zika after travel to Senegal; his wife came down with the disease a few days later even though she had not left northern Colorado and was not exposed to any mosquitoes carrying the virus.
3. Where is the Zika virus now?
The Zika virus is now being locally transmitted in Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Venezuela, says the CDC.
Zika has arrived in the United States, but only from travelers returning from these infected areas. The concern, of course, is whether these imported cases could result in locally transmitted cases within the United States.
The Aedes albopictus, or Asian tiger mosquito, which along with Aedes aegypti transmits Zika virus, is present in many areas of the United States.