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Zika Unleashed

Zika continues to spread across the Americas.  It is a virus originating from the most commonly hated species amongst humans; the mosquito. Here's what the buzz is all about.

The Zika virus originates from the Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito known for spreading illnesses such as yellow fever, dengue, and the West Nile virus.  Once bitten, only one in five people develop symptoms such as fever, joint pain, rush, and red eyes, with temporary paralysis among a rarer effect exhibited. The virus remains in the body for about one-week. In the past, the virus never caused major concern, until cases of a rare birth defect began to rise at the same time Zika said hello to the Americas. 

Image Credit: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Image Credit: U.S. National Library of Medicine

An unusually high concentration of babies born with microcephaly-abnormally small heads and damaged brains- has been reported in Brazil since October.  Normally, from the average three million babies born in the country each year, only 150 cases are documented. Doctors in Brazil are currently treating more than 4,000 babies with microcephaly. 

In the majority of children born with the disease, mothers reported experiencing Zika symptoms during pregnancy.  Doctors believe it is no coincidence that the number of microcephaly cases is increasing exponentially as the Zika virus sweeps the continent.

Image Credit:
Image Credit:

Microcephaly effects not only cranial size, but also brain development in 75% of diagnoses, causing a wide variety of issues including halting of brain development, hearing loss, and learning disabilities. Just this week, doctors in Brazil released that there has been an additional disturbing rise in retinal issues afflicting the vision of one-third of microcephaly babies.  A Zika generation is emerging, and there is no treatment for the illness or its birth defects. 

The Zika outbreak began in Brazil, with the first case in South America reported by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in May 2015. The Aedes aegypti habitats areas of still, warm water.  Unfortunately, many of the lower-class neighborhoods in Brazil have pools of sitting water within their own homes. The combination of still water and a tropical climate leads to the ideal reproduction ground for Zika to wreak havoc on lower income families.  Previously, the virus was only known to exist in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Isles.

Image Credit: Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Image Credit: Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

There are no reported cases of active Zika transmission via mosquito in the United States.  However, according to the Center’s for Disease Control, nearly 35 cases of Zika have been reported from travelers who have recently visited countries where the virus is prevalent. The only known method of human-to-human spread of Zika is through the form of an STD. So far, only one case of Zika has been contradicted in the US through sexual relations.  There are no other known methods of contagion.

How Zika originally came the the Americas, we may never know. But with the New York Times reporting that an estimated four million people will become infected with the virus in 2016, it appears as if Zika is here to stay for quite some time.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Business Insider, New York Times: Short Answers to Hard Questions About Zika

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