Top 10 Need To Know Zika Virus Facts
Top 10 Need To Know Zika Virus Facts

Top 10 Need To Know Zika Virus Facts

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Sean Harris

It's an emerging disease that has spread significantly into Central and South America, and it's causing major alarm at the World Health Organization. Welcome to News, the weekly series where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this installment, we're counting down 10 need to know facts about the Zika Virus.

Script written by Sean Harris

Top 10 Need To Know Zika Virus Facts

It’s an emerging disease that has spread significantly into Central and South America, and it’s causing major alarm at the World Health Organization. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this installment, we’re counting down 10 need to know facts about the Zika Virus.

#10: What Is the Zika Virus?
The Situation

The Zika Virus is a mosquito-borne disease, which has been known to occur in some parts of Africa and Asia since the 1950s. It causes an illness known as Zika fever, which is likened to a mild form of dengue fever, and has been linked to microcephaly in babies, which is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by the sufferer having an abnormally small head. In 2015, the virus outbreak spread to the Americas, prompting the World Health Organization to express alarm. ‘The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty’, said WHO director general, Dr. Margaret Chan. On February 1st, 2016, the WHO declared it a global public health emergency.

#9: How Does the Virus Spread?
The Mosquitoes

The virus is mainly spread by the Aedes aegypi mosquito, found in the tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas. However, due to climate change, a species known as Aedes albopictus has been moving into North America as well, and can be found as far north as the Great Lakes. The Aedes mosquito usually bites in the morning or late afternoon, and the WHO has issued a series of recommendations to reduce the risk of being bitten and contracting the Zika virus. Those living in affected areas have been told to use insect repellent, wear light clothing and to cover up as much skin as possible.

#8: Which Areas Are Affected?
The Americas

Zika virus is mostly found within the tropical equatorial belt. Historically, it has existed in parts of Central Africa, India and Indonesia. The 2015-16 outbreak has caused the most concern in Central America though, and northern regions of South America. Since the outbreak, Zika has been reported in Colombia, French Guiana, Mexico and Venezuela as well as many more South and Central American countries. Nations worldwide have strongly advised people to rethink any travel plans they may have had for infected regions.

#7: What Is Microcephaly?
The Condition

Microcephaly is a neurodevelopmental disorder linked to the Zika virus, typically defined by the sufferer having a head circumference two or three standard deviations below the mean average for his or her age and sex. Microcephaly can cause abnormal growth of the brain, and is especially dangerous for newborn babies. The condition, which can develop in the first few years of life, often leads to severely impaired intellectual development, and can cause problems with motor functions and speech development.

#6: Who Is in Danger?
The Mothers

Pregnant women have been identified as particularly in danger of the virus, with some countries already advising women not to get pregnant at all. In El Salvador, it has been suggested that women delay conception until at least 2018, and similar limits have been put forward in Jamaica, Colombia and Ecuador. In the US, officials have specifically advised pregnant women to postpone any travel plans to Zika-affected countries. ‘When we have no other tools to use right now, that’s about the best advice you can give’, said Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota.

#5: How Do You Know If You’ve Been Infected?
The Tests

Though there is no specific test widely available to identify the Zika virus, the disease’s symptoms are similar to those experienced during dengue or yellow fever, and it may cross-react with antibody tests for those viruses. If you are at all suspicious that you have been infected with Zika, a blood or tissue sample must be sent to an advanced laboratory within the first week of infection. However, initial symptoms are usually fairly mild, with only one in five people infected experiencing any notable difference, including fever, rashes and joint pain.

#4: How Has the World Responded?
The Warnings

The World Health Organization has said that Zika is ‘spreading explosively’, and has anticipated that it will eventually spread in every country in the Americas, excluding Canada and mainland Chile. Cases have been reported in the former because of travelers, but the virus is unlikely to spread in these two countries because the mosquitoes do not live there. Cases have been reported in the former, but the virus is unlikely to spread because the mosquitoes do not live there. As there is no vaccine available against Zika, authorities worldwide have focused on controlling mosquitos, and have urged communities to pull together in an effort to curb infection rates. Nations from all over the planet have asked their residents to stop travelling to Zika-infected areas, and Canada has asked blood donors to delay donating blood for at least one month if they have recently travelled to affected areas.

#3: How Will This Affect the Rio Olympics?
The Unknown

There is real concern within the WHO and from other medical advisors, in relation to the upcoming Olympic Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro. Some experts have already suggested that the virus first came to Brazil during football’s World Cup, which was staged in 2014, and believe that the Olympics will contribute significantly to Zika becoming a global problem. With around half a million people expected to travel to Rio for the Games (with around 200,000 of those being Americans), there is massive potential for a bite-to-bite large-scale spread of the disease that otherwise may not have occurred.

#2: Is There a Cure?
The Problem

There is no cure for the Zika virus, with treatment focused on symptom relief. Similarly, there is no cure for microcephaly, though progress has been made to ensure that sufferers are able to live with the condition. Despite the illness being close to dengue fever, experts are cautious about whether any vaccine could be adapted. Companies including Inovio, Hawaii Biotech, GSK and Sanofi are all at various stages of development for a Zika virus, but Sanofi has recently underlined the current approach. In a statement, it said, ‘There are too many unknowns about Zika to reliably judge the ability to research and develop a vaccine effectively at this time.’

#1: How Will This End?
The Future

Scientists are expected to continue developing a cure, for a disease which some estimates say will affect up to 4 million people in the Americas in 2016. For now, the focus is on containment rather than cure, which is why the 2016 Rio Olympic Games is becoming a cause for alarm. It is unclear for how long affected countries will advise women against getting pregnant, and how significantly this will alter national populations in the future. Furthermore, international reluctance to travel to the Americas is likely to continue until the threat of Zika has been significantly reduced, which is clearly bad news in terms of tourism. In the mean time, countries all over the world are working to prevent Zika from entering too aggressively into their borders.

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