Zika Virus: What You Need to Know

By now, everyone has heard of the Zika virus rapidly taking over the Americas. Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a “public health emergency of international concern” in the face of a rapid spread across Central and South America and the Caribbean. Though it’s been around for over six decades, the virus has spread like wild fired across the globe in the last several weeks.

To keep you up to date, here are some common questions you might have about Zika:

What is the Zika virus?

The Zika virus, originally discovered in 1947 in a monkey from the Zika forest of Uganda, is in the same disease family as Yellow fever, Dengue, and West Nile. The virus is spread through mosquito bites, blood transfusions, and sexual transmission.

What are the symptoms?

Zika virus brings upon symptoms of severe fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, spotted rash, joint pain, muscle pain and even pain in the back of the eyes. However, roughly 80% people infected are asymptomatic and are unaware they even carry the virus.

So, how serious is it for women?

While Zika is not as serious an issue for most of the non-pregnant population, it is very serious for pregnant women living in or visiting affected countries. Zika has become increasingly frightening for pregnant women, with links to microcephaly and numerous brain defects for unborn babies.

Currently, Brazil has recorded over 4,700 suspected cases of microcephaly.  Additionally, Zika is now circulating in at least 28 countries, including many island nations in the tropical Atlantic (update: now Australia and a few countries in Europe). Researchers suspect Zika could infect 3-4 million people by the end of 2016 and spread to all but two countries across the Americas.

WHO and the CDC have warned that whether you’re living in an affected area or traveling abroad, you should be aware of the symptoms and transmission cycle of the virus, though they have yet to warn against traveling altogether.

What exactly is microcephaly?

Microcephaly, which literally means “small head,” is a condition where the head size of newborns in abnormally small, usually as low as the bottom one percent. According to Dr. Ganeshwaran Mochida, a pediatric neurologist and researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital, “Microcephaly is almost always due to insufficient growth of the brain.”  The condition currently affects roughly 25,000 children in the U.S., making it fairly uncommon.

Mochida believes we have yet to understand the full spectrum of congenital Zika virus infection and “there could be subtle developmental issues or other organs that are affected.”

What about Zika spreading in the U.S.?

In short, there’s not a huge threat here. Thankfully, the U.S. is equipped to prevent an outbreak simply because of our modern amenities, including air conditioning and insulated homes. However, in the last several months, there have been over 48 patients in at least 12 states and Washington, D.C., all of which come from people traveling abroad recently (except for two in Dallas).

This week, here in Dallas, two cases were reported and appeared to have been sexually transmitted from one person to the other. This is the only known instance of the virus being transmitted this way in the States, but officials believe it could become a more serious concern moving forward.

Additionally, Florida Governor Rick Scott recently declared a health emergency in four counties throughout the state in an attempt to stop the virus in it’s tracks. There’s no record yet that the virus has entered the mosquito population in Florida, but it could move through someone coming into Florida from Brazil or another affected country.

Finally, the biggest concern for officials though are our territories, namely Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Both of these territories are right in the heart of the affected areas and have already seen a number of cases.

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