The Zika virus is a relatively new disease that is transmitted to humans by the female of the Aedes egypti mosquito species. Found active in 25 countries, health authorities in the United States and elsewhere are issuing health warnings to persons traveling to and from the tropical regions of the Americas. So far, the disease has been found throughout the South American continent, with the exceptions of Peru, Ecuador and Chile. In North America, Zika is found in the United States, Mexico and Central America, and some Caribbean islands.
Currently, there is a suspected case in California: a teenager in Los Angeles County reportedly contracted the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is currently no vaccine or treatment regime available for sufferers of Zika. Patients can be given painkillers and medications for reducing fever. Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health said that Zika is “a pandemic in progress.” Zika is a flavivirus, and therefore similar to chikungunya, dengue, West Nile, and yellow fever.
Since November 2015, Brazil has seen nearly 4,000 cases of microcephaly in babies born to women who were infected with Zika during pregnancy. There were only 146 cases in 2014. So far, 46 babies have died. In the United States, a baby in Hawaii was born with microcephaly after his mother returned from Brazil, Also, in Illinois, two pregnant women who traveled to Latin America have tested positive for the virus; health officials are monitoring their pregnancies. Health authorities in El Salvador are suggesting that women avoid pregnancy until at least 2019. The Centers for Disease Control are asking doctors to look at fetal ultrasounds and conduct amniocentesis to test women who have travelled to any of the countries where there is a current outbreak. A smaller outbreak of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that can lead to , has been linked to Zika in a several countries. Zika can spread from expectant mothers to their unborn children in the amniotic fluid. This is a new development.
After biting an infected person, an Aedes mosquito transmits the virus by biting other persons. Those persons in turn become carriers while they have symptoms. While symptoms can be mild, 80 percent may never know that they are infected. Symptoms include: fever, headache, rash and possible pink eye. In fact, 80% of those infected never know they have the disease. That's especially concerning for pregnant women, as this virus has now been shown to pass through amniotic fluid to the growing baby. Another mosquito species that can transmit the virus is Aedes albopictus or Asian Tiger, which is found in much of the U.S.
Zika can also be transmitted through sexual contact, blood transfusion, childbirth, and exposure in laboratory conditions. It is not yet clear whether the virus can be transmitted through human breast milk. The cases of Zika infection through sex were found in Tahiti: a a 44-year-old man was found to have the virus in his urine and semen even though his blood did not. And in Colorado in 2008, a microbiologist contracted Zika after a trip to Senegal. His wife contracted the disease a few days after his return even though she had not left northern Colorado nor had contact with Zika-infected mosquitos.
While Zika is not known yet to be fatal among adults, unborn children are especially at risk. Brazil and other countries have seen a marked increase in birth defects including microcephaly – a condition that severely limits development. However, a mutation in the virus could make it more lethal to others.
Where is the Zika virus?
The Zika virus is now being locally transmitted in Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Venezuela, says the CDC.
Zika is currently found in the U.S., but only among persons who have travelled to infected areas. Two cases cropped up last week in the Miami-Dade County area, while Puerto Rico has seen a spike in cases. Puerto Rico’s Health Secretary Ana Rius declared that there are 18 confirmed cases. None involve pregnant women. Epidemiologist Brenda Rivera said today that most of the cases are among elderly people. Health authorities are testing more than 200 other potential Zika cases, having found them negative for dengue and chikungunya.
According to Canadian researchers, if mosquitos in the U.S. become carriers, at least 63 percent of the American population could be exposed, especially during the warmer summer months. At least 7 percent of the U.S. population live in regions where winter is not cold enough to finish off the mosquitoes, thus exposing them year-round to the disease.
Several vacation destinations in the Caribbean are reporting Zika contagion. Among them are: Dominican Republic, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Martin. Notable for not being on the CDC list is Cuba, which tightly controls news and any information unfavorable to the communist government. Recently improved diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba have prompted thousands of Cubans
to enter the country via Mexico, which recently signed economic and consular accords with island republic. Cubans are uniquely qualified for considerable welfare payments because they are automatically given refugee status. Upon arrival, they are eligible for cash assistance, housing subsidies, food stamps, and job training. In addition, they can apply for SSI disability assistance and Medicare.