If you have paid attention to the news lately, there is a lot of talk about a “new” virus outbreak. The virus is called the Zika Virus. This virus is not new. The first discovery of the Zika Virus was in April of 1947 by Alexander Haddow and his colleague George Dick. The virus is named after the Zika forest in Uganda, Africa, where it was first identified.
For over half a century, virus studies have been conducted in the Zika forest because of its bionetwork that is a hot bed for viruses, specifically arboviruses (viruses spread by mosquitos), and other infectious diseases. The forest has a number of different elevations with distinct ecosystems that have their own mosquito types. Additionally, the forest and surrounding regions are rich with life. There are many different species of animals that call it home. With the mosquitos feeding on blood from many different animals, the viruses have many different types of hosts. The diversity of hosts allows the virus to mutate and evolve. It’s only a matter of time before these viruses evolve to where they can infect humans.
It is believed that the Zika virus has been able to infect humans for a very long time now. There are some human populations in Africa and Asia that have developed immunity to the virus. Not much study has been done on the virus because in the past, it only caused minor illness to humans. Unless a virus has potential to cause severe illness to humans, it isn’t considered a threat worthy of study. Scientists believe that the virus recently mutated, and is now spreading rapidly throughout South America.
The Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites. Yet, as of late, there has been talk of possible evidence that the virus was spread through sexual contact in Texas. The illness caused by the Zika virus is mild and only last for a few days. Only 1 in 5 people become symptomatic. The symptoms include a fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. As of today, the main threat from the Zika virus is to the unborn. There has been evidence of infected pregnant women in South America having miscarriages and giving birth to babies with birth defects.
There is no vaccine for the Zika Virus. The good news is the Zika virus only remains in an infected person’s blood stream while they are infected, usually a few days to a week. The CDC is recommending that pregnant women not travel to counties where cases of Zika Virus have been reported. If you are in an area where mosquitos are active, you should use insect repellent. Most insect repellents are safe for pregnant women (always check the label to make sure it is safe for pregnant women.)
Spring will soon be upon us followed by summer. This is when the mosquitos will be active. The most important thing is to be aware and take precautions now. There is good news, there has been talks by vaccine producers of projects in place to develop a vaccine for the Zika Virus.