The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the mosquito-borne Zika virus is likely to spread across most of the Americas, so here are a few things you should know.
What Is Zika?
The Zika virus is a rare tropical disease that was first discovered in Uganda in 1947. The first known carrier of the virus was a monkey in the Zika forest, hence where it got its name. Since the first identification, Zika has been found largely within tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. However, last year the virus reached Brazil and has since spread across Latin America, and several Caribbean islands.
How Is Zika Spread?
The virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito which is very common across the Americas. The same mosquito is known to carry a host of other diseases including dengue fever, chikungunya and yellow fever. The WHO believes the rapid spread across the Americas is likely the result of the disease being new to the area, meaning people are not currently immune. It is not known to spread from person to person as Flu would.
What Are The Symptoms Of Zika?
According to The Guardian, 80 per cent of those carrying the virus don’t present symptoms, however it is known to cause fever, rashes and joint pain. Allegedly, such symptoms subside within a week.
Is Zika Causing Birth Defects To Babies?
WHO director general, Margaret Chan, has commented that there is no causal link between Zika and birth deformities, but an increase of microcephaly in nations hit by the virus is cause for concern.
Although a causal link between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly has not – and I must emphasise – has not been established, the circumstantial evidence is suggestive and extremely worrisome. An increased occurrence of neurological symptoms, noted in some countries coincident with arrival of the virus, adds to the concern.
Microcephaly causes the brain to stop developing, leaving infants with smaller than average head circumference.
Pregnant women are strongly advised not to travel to affected regions during any stage of their pregnancy.
Which nations are at risk?
According to Ryot, U.S. health officials have identified 22 at risk countries. These include: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, Cape Verde and Samoa.
Canada and Chile are believed to be safe from the virus due to an absence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Zika has not yet been reported in the continental United States, but the risk remains.
Is There A Vaccine?
No, there is no current cure to Zika, but The Guardian reports that two of the world’s largest drug companies are working to see if existing vaccine technology could be used in the fight against Zika.
How You Can Protect Yourself
The mosquitoes are apparently most active during daylight hours, so the best thing to do if you are in a tropical climate is cover up. Wear long sleeves and trousers, while also utilising insect repellent. At night, it goes without saying that mosquito nets are a good idea.