Zika Virus Inciting Global Fear

Zika virus, also referred to as ZikV, is a disease caused primarily by Aedes mosquitos. Although it has only recently become a major threat to people worldwide, ZikV was first identified in monkeys in Uganda as early as 1947. Later in 1952, it was identified in humans, and since then, there have been numerous outbreaks in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and areas of the Pacific.

The disease is primarily transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito. This same Aedes mosquito is responsible for transmitting other diseases such as yellow fever, dengue, and chikungunya. Scientists have recently found that the virus can also be transmitted sexually, and it is believed that other methods of transmission are possible.

In Jul. 2015, Brazil reported a link between the Zika virus infection and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Later that year, there were similar reports of an association between Zika virus infection and microcephaly. As such, Brazil is known as the ‘epicenter’ of the disease. Undoubtedly, this generated waves of trepidation earlier this year as many athletes and tourists were worried about the risk of going to Brazil for the Olympic Games. Many athletes even withdrew their participation because of looming fears. Jason Day, Australian golfer, who is currently number one in the world decided that participating in the Olympic Games was not worth the risk of infection. In an interview with the Telegraph, he stated that

“The reason for my decision is my concerns about the possible transmission of the Zika virus and the potential risks that it may present to my wife’s future pregnancies and to future members of our family. While it has always been a major goal to compete in the Olympics on behalf of my country, playing golf cannot take precedent over the safety of our family. I will not place them at risk.”

Similarly, Dustin Johnson, an American professional golfer also withdrew from the Olympics as early as Jul.

“I felt it would be irresponsible to put myself, her [his wife] or our family at risk,” said Johnson in an interview with the Telegraph.

Thankfully, the Olympic Games, which were held in Rio, Brazil had little to no effect on the increase in the prevalence of the Zika virus to other areas around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there was very little evidence to support concerns that the influx of tourists for the Olympics may worsen the Zika epidemic.

“From the reports WHO received from national health authorities, there have so far been no laboratory confirmed cases of Zika virus in anyone associated with the Olympics,” WHO wrote.

Though symptoms are generally mild, complications from the disease may become life threatening. Scientists have concluded that the Zika virus is linked to a range of neurological disorders including microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome. On Aug.27, during his weekly address, President Barrack Obama shared his concerns about the disease. He also spoke about the concerns citizens had about the risk of getting infected.

“Earlier this year, I got a letter from a South Carolina woman named Ashley, who was expecting her third child. She was, in her words, “extremely concerned” about the Zika virus, and what it might mean for other pregnant women like her. I understand that concern. As a father, Ashley’s letter has stuck with me, and it’s why we’ve been so focused on the threat of the Zika virus,” said Obama.

Since then, much has been done to mitigate the rising fears and concerns.

“My Administration has done what we can on our own. Our primary focus has been protecting pregnant women and families planning to have children. For months now, the CDC has been working closely with officials in Florida and other states,” Obama said.

On Sept. 22, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said that there were 47 countries and territories across the Americas which have been affected by the Zika virus.A dditionally, they reported that five countries have reported the disease being transmitted sexually.

“In the United States ofA merica, the area of Zika transmission continues to expand with three counties in the state of Florida reporting autochthonous cases of Zika virus infection: Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Pinellas,” said PAHO.

The government officials across the region have been joining forces to help combat the issues surrounding Zika virus. Here in Florida, Governor Rick Scott has been proactive, and has been funding many research efforts to help in the Zika crisis. In a news release posted on Sept. 30, Governor Scott spoke about what is being done.

“As the first and only state fighting local Zika cases, we are at the epicenter of this national crisis. While the federal government was dragging their feet, our state was taking aggressive action to protect our families and visitors. Since June, I have authorized $61.2 million in state funds for Zika, including $25 million to support research to develop a vaccine against the Zika virus and enhance Zika testing methods. Now that the president has approved this bill, the federal government must work quickly to send necessary funding to our state so we can continue to protect our state’s expecting mothers and their future children,” said Governor Scott.

Although there are vaccines being developed, it will take quite some time for this to become commercially available. In an interview with Health Day Reporter, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) stated that, “two riva l vaccines for Zika have the best chance of becoming available for field testing by early next year.”

However, an article posted by NewScientist.com, written by Jessica Hamzelou said, “A team of researchers from the US and China identified one drug – currently in clinical trials for liver diseases – that protects brain cells from damage, and 10 others that stop Zika from replicating, one of which is an already-approved drug used to treat worm infections. A combination of two compounds could be an effective Zika treatment.”

Until a tested vaccine is properly developed, it is the responsibility of each individual to keep himself or herself safe. The best way to do this is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. This can be done by wearing the appropriate insect repellant, as well as long sleeved shirts and long pants. This way, mosquitoes have very little access to the skin. Hopefully, the spread of this virus becomes well-contained in the near future.

 

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