In May of last year, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) confirmed a case of the Zika Virus in Brazil, the first of many more to come in the Americas. While this wasn’t the first instance of the virus, this was the first in the Western Hemisphere as previous reports had come from Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. This fast-acting virus has since appeared in 25 countries as recently reported by USA Today. The United States alone has now seen at least 30 cases from travelers returning home. The World Health Organization (WHO) is on high alert as a result of this outbreak and has been meeting to organize a plan of attack to combat the virus, calling this a “public health emergency of international concern.”
The WHO was cautious in declaring an official public health emergency—past outbreak cases have resulted in hits to economies when countries have shut down borders to protect their own. This most recently occurred when the Ebola outbreak surfaced.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Zika Virus usually presents itself as any of the following symptoms: fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, which can appear beginning at any time for a few days to a week. The majority of cases show no symptoms at all; however, a connection has been bridged between the virus and a birth defect called “microcephaly”, which impacts the growth of the brain and head in newborn babies.
Although little is known about this virus, health authorities have confirmed that it is carried and spread through mosquito bites. However, recent reports confirmed a case of Zika transmitted sexually in Dallas, Texas and other cases of infection through blood transfusions. Pregnant women can also pass the disease to the children they carry, though less is known about this manner of infection.
As a result, a Level 2 (out of three levels) travel notice has been issued for pregnant women among the countries where the virus is known to have spread, advising travelers to take significant precautions. This is one step below the advisory to avoid all non-essential travel.
With the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games set to be hosted in Brazil, the virus has presented the challenge of keeping the public safe. Military personnel have begun pouring chlorine into water tanks and clearing gutters, according to The Guardian. Despite the potential economic difficulties posed, Rio de Janeiro will continue to host the Olympics.
Currently, there is no vaccine or treatment; the only prevention method is to avoid mosquito bites by wearing covered clothing, using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved insect repellents, remaining in air conditioning, and using window and door screens to protect your home. The only treatment method is to treat the individual symptoms by resting, drinking fluids, and taking over the counter medications for fever and aches.
There is much more to be discovered and understood about the Zika Virus. As health authorities continue to unravel details, we’re urged to remain vigilant.
By Aura Altamiranda