ZIKA OUTBREAK: WHAT IS IT, AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE U.S.

By Rebecca Emrick
Staff Writer

The Zika virus that is currently having an abnormally high outbreak in South America has been linked to affected pregnant women who’ve also given birth to babies with a condition known as microcephaly. Additionally it’s been reported that infected individuals are also contracting a virus known as Guillain-Barré. The Zika virus spreads to humans from mosquito bites and is having an uncharacteristically large outbreak in South American countries.

In a report from the CDC, symptoms of the Zika virus include “fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week.” Recent news reports regarding the Zika outbreak in South America, and notably Brazil, have been linking this mosquito-spread disease to multiple problems. The most prominent problem that Brazil is facing at the moment with the Zika virus, are pregnant women. Pregnant women who have been infected with the Zika virus, via mosquito bites, have been known to give birth to babies with a condition known as microcephaly: a condition in which the brain of an infant is not fully developed which leads to “severe brain damage [that] affects all aspects of a child’s development, both physical and mental” and sadly infants affected with the disease are expected to live about 10 years.

Although this disease isn’t new to Brazil, the number of cases is astonishing and it is partly to blame for the sheer number of infant disease cases that have recently broken out in Brazil. “Brazil had fewer than 150 cases of microcephaly in the whole of 2014, but there have been about 4,000 since October [2015]”, and while the link in the Zika disease being found in pregnant mothers hasn’t been directly linked to infants with microcephaly, it’s hard to deny the coincidental nature of the mass amount of outbreaks along side the mass influx of babies being born with this life-threatening condition. Countries alongside Brazil such as Columbia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Jamaica have called for women to delay pregnancies up to 3 years until more information is known about the Zika virus and it’s effects on humans.

Health ministers  hope that governments in Latin America will call on women to delay pregnancies in order to express to citizens the effects and consequences of becoming pregnant and the effect of the Zika virus at this time. Although good in nature, women’s rights activists have called out these governments as being naïve, because “women in the region often had little choice about becoming pregnant”. In a recent interview with BBC, Monida Roa, a member of Women’s Link Worldwide group explained that “it’s incredibly naive for a government to ask women to postpone getting pregnant in a context such as Colombia, where more than 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and across the region where sexual violence is prevalent”. This proves to be a problem, especially for a country like Colombia that has had the second highest outbreak behind Brazil at 13,500 reported cases. If it is true that women have little power in when they become pregnant due to sexual violence, leading to unplanned pregnancies, then governments in these regions with a strong history in sexual violence should either be shifting their cautionary tales, or shifting their focus.

In addition to the recent birth defects that have been linked to the Zika virus, another rare condition being linked to this fast spreading condition is known as Guillain-Barré: the individual that has been bitten by a mosquito with the Zika virus is almost completely paralyzed for weeks on end. In a recent interview, Dr. Wellington Galvão, a hematologist in northeast Brazil estimates “Zika increases by about 20 times the probability that an individual can get Guillain-Barré.”

After examining the Zika outbreak in Latin America, one may ask the question “what does this have to do with me?” Consequently, travel warnings have been issued to Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname, and Venezuela. These warnings are especially prevalent for those living on the borders of the affected countries such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. A Texan was diagnosed with the Zika virus, after returning back to Texas from a trip to South America. Although there have been some cases of people being infected with the Zika virus in the U.S., in all of the cases the infected person had contracted the disease from outside the U.S.

If you live close, or in one of the affected areas, here are some steps that you can take to avoid being bitten by a possibly affected mosquito:

  • Use insect repellents (for tips and pointers, visit the CDC website)
  • When weather permits, wear long sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Use air conditioning or window/door screen to keep mosquitos outside. If you’re not able to take these steps, sleep under a mosquito bed net
  • Emptying standing water from containers such as flower pots or buckets

For further information on precautionary measures, and what to do if you’re infected please visit the CDC website.

Image by Agência Brasil Fotografias

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