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Zika Virus, An Emerging Pandemic Threat

Zika Virus, An Emerging Pandemic Threat

A virus that was found in 1947 and has largely remained dormant for nearly more than half a century with no devastating effects on mankind, Zika is reaching a pandemic level in the Southern America. The World Health Organization has declared a global emergency due to the pace at which this virus has started spreading across continents. Showing symptoms of seasonal flu with body aches, and joint pains in adults, it affects the foetus of a pregnant woman causing poorly developed brain and skull, known by the name microcephaly, in a newborn baby. The virus can also be transmitted sexually other than being passed from a mother to child through the placenta.


Zika Virus - Electron Micrograph

Zika Virus – Electron Micrograph [Source: Wikipedia]

Almost a million people are infected by the virus in Brazil, which is already tottering with economic and political turmoil. Nearly 4000 children are born with microcephaly since October 2015. With the Olympics scheduled for 2016 in Brazil, Zika virus would become a major deterrent inviting fewer tourists to the event, even though only pregnant women are at risk due to the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States has asked its pregnant women to avoid travelling to a list of 22 countries in the region due to the potential risk of contracting the virus. The virus is making its way through the Caribbean, South and Central Americas and Mexico since 2015.

To make things worse, Zika – a Flaviviridae family member that spreads through Aedes mosquitoes- is one of the least understood viruses. Like dengue, Zika is caused by diurnal mosquitoes. With no vaccines available currently, we may be 10 to 12 years far from developing an effective vaccine approved for public use, says Nikos Vasilakis from Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious diseases (CBEID).


A Microcephalus Child infected by Zika Virus

A Microcephalus Child [Source:nbcnews]

As it has a debilitating effect on pregnant women, the worst affected countries including Brazil, El Salvador, Colombia, Ecuador, Jamaica and Honduras have asked women to postpone pregnancy. El Salvador, the country with the strictest abortion policy has asked its women to avoid pregnancy until 2018 that has sparked a debate against its abortion policies. El Salvador considers a foetus as a human being as soon as it is conceived in the womb.

Moreover, contraception to avoid pregnancy is also debated as the country has a majority of Roman Catholics. Thus, the consequences of the virus are not posing questions to medical science but also to the very realm of our faiths.
In addition to the birth defects, Zika may also cause a paralytic, autoimmune condition Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) that claimed the life of Joseph Heller, the author of the famous Catch-22.

Infographics on Zika Virus

Infographics on Zika Virus []

In 1947, when scientists from Yellow Fever Research Institute placed a rhesus macaque monkey inside a cage in the Zika forest of Uganda, it got a fever and the same happened again in 1948. A transmissible agent was isolated from the serum of the monkey and was later identified as Zika virus in 1952. This virus can be transmitted by a number of mosquitoes of the genus Aedes including A. aegypti, A. africanus, A.luteocephalus and a few more. A.aegypti is a potential carrier of the virus as it is prevalent across the continents. The widespread travel and trade has also led to the sudden explosion.

Since its discovery, the virus has remained silent or didn’t show any destructive effects on human beings until 2007, when it was found in the blood samples of infected people in the island of Yap. It was initially thought as dengue or chikungunya, but the serum samples of patients, when tested confirmed the presence of Zika virus. Though, there were no fatalities then.

Due to global emergency, the research efforts to find a vaccine would be fastened to reduce the impact of the virus as much as possible. All we can hope is it happens at the earliest!

Related Video: The Devastating Zika Virus Explained

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