National Beat Reporter
The Zika virus outbreak has been circulating in a frenzy amongst global headlines; the World Health Organization announced the outbreak as a “public health emergency of international concern.”
Mosquitoes and other vectors are popular in areas like the Santa Barbara County, so community members may be concerned about the risk they pose. The publicity of this virus has produced misconceptions and myths that cloud the truth of what Zika is and who is at risk of getting infected.
What is Zika?
Zika is a virus that is largely transmitted by infected mosquitoes that can produce mild symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes among infected humans. Although largely spread via mosquito vessel, Zika can be transmitted to a fetus from the mother, sexual intercourse and possibly blood transfusion (although not confirmed, according to the Center of Disease Control).
What are the effects of Zika?
Zika is not a life-threatening virus—an infected individual can experience symptoms for up to a week or may not even experience any symptoms. However, Zika poses a larger threat to developing fetuses. An infection during pregnancy can cause a brain birth defect known as microcephaly, when the baby’s head develops much smaller than expected, and many other defects of the brain, eyes and ears.
Zika has also been associated with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a rare disease where the immune system damages the nervous cells. However, only a small proportion of recently infected individuals have gotten GBS.
Where and when did the Zika outbreak start?
Zika was first identified in monkeys in Uganda in in 1947 and later discovered in humans in 1952, according to WHO.
The ongoing Zika outbreak began in May 2015 when the Brazilian National Reference Laboratory confirmed the circulation of Zika within the country. Over the span of months, confirmed cases of Zika have surfaced across Southern and Central America.
Zika extended its trek to the United States; in September, the Florida Department of Health has identified a 4.5 square-mile area in Miami where Zika is actively mosquito borne. There was one case in Hawaii where a woman, who traveled to Brazil within the last year, gave birth to a child with microcephaly.
Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, blogged his response on whether we will see Zika in the United States.
“We do expect, unfortunately, that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands could have many infections with the Zika virus, and we will certainly see U.S. travelers returning with Zika infections …,” Frieden wrote. “But from the information we know now, widespread transmission in the contiguous United States appears to be unlikely.”
Is there a cure for Zika?
There is currently no specific vaccine or medicine for Zika virus. However, according to TIME Magazine, there is a vaccine in development by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“Scientists are tweaking a vaccine that was initially developed for the West Nile virus, and they expect to launch a safety trial for it in September,” wrote Alexandra Sifferlin, a health writer for the magazine.