The Zika outbreak: There is a new brain deforming disease caused by mosquitoes

A low fever, rash, headache and red eyes. These are some of the symptoms of the Zika disease, one that has infected an estimated 1.5 million people in Brazil and is expected to hit the United States soon.

The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease primarily transmitted with the bite of the aedes aegypti mosquito. However, most infected persons are not aware that they carry the virus – four out five – as there are rarely symptoms. People don’t get sick and when they do, it’s usually very minor.

However, this is not the case for babies of infected mothers. On the 28th of November last year, the Brazilian health ministry took a significant step by announcing a link between Zika and an increase in cases of microcephaly.

Microcephaly is a rare neurological disorder in babies resulting in their being born with small craniums, limited brain development that could be deadly and sometimes, paralysis.

Baby with Microcephaly Credit - nbc connecticut
Baby with Microcephaly
Credit – nbc connecticut

Last Friday, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel warning to women and pregnant women about travelling to South and Central America as well as to other countries around those regions. Other directives by the CDC include that pregnant women who have travelled to these regions be monitored for the virus.

So far, Zika has been reported in at least 21 countries, with six states having declared a state of emergency in Brazil and women advised to delay getting pregnant. The CNN reports that in 2014, there were only 147 recorded cases of microcephaly, now there are thousands of cases, including dozens of possibly related infant deaths.

No vaccine or any form of treatment yet

There is no specific antiviral treatment available for the treatment of Zika virus disease, or vaccine to prevent infection. According to the CDC, ‘treatment is generally supportive and can include rest, fluids and use of analgesics and antipyretics.”

Once infected, one should be protected from further mosquito exposure especially in the first few days of illness to reduce the risk of local transmission. Travellers to affected areas are also advised to prevent mosquito bites by covering exposed skin and using mosquito repellent.

The CDC also reports that mosquito bites and mother-to-foetus aren’t the only modes of transmission of the fast-spreading virus. Zika virus can also be transmitted through sexual relations, blood transfusions and laboratory exposure.

However, if there is to be a small ray of light in this ‘darkness’, it is said that an infected individual will likely develop an immunity to future infections.

List of affected countries

The following countries had confirmed locally-acquired cases as of January 18th:

  • Barbados
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • French Guiana
  • Guadeloupe
  • Guatemala
  • Guyana
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Martinique
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Puerto Rico
  • Saint Martin
  • Suriname
  • Venezuela

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