Subtle But Dangerous: How the Zika Virus Is Threatening America

The Zika virus is proving to be a subtle but dangerous threat to North America.

Originating in Africa and then spreading to Asia around 50 years ago, the disease came to South America in 1947. It was first identified in a monkey living in the Zika Forest in Uganda (from which it gets its name). The first outbreak of the virus occurred on Yap Island in the Federated States of Micronesia in 2007. Since then, the virus has spread throughout Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America.

Like another flavivirus strain, the West Nile virus, Zika is transmitted chiefly by mosquitoes. The Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes are the most prominent transmitters of the virus. The latter mosquito (also called the Asian Tiger Mosquito) is native to Asia and Africa, but is thriving in South America. It is typically active throughout the day, with biting peaking in the morning and afternoon.

“Unlike mosquitoes more common to California, which usually come out in the evening, these mosquitoes bite during the daytime,” reports the L. A. Times.

[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]
[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]
One common scare with the virus is its subtlety. With a two- to seven-day incubation period, the virus may not even be evident in an infected patient until a week after they are bitten. Similar to viruses such as mononucleosis, no cure currently exists for patients with Zika. Instead, doctors can only treat the symptoms. Usually patients are advised to rest, stay hydrated, and take acetaminophen for pain and fever relief.

Because the virus is not necessarily deadly to adults, with symptoms involving rash, fever, joint pain and headache, it has become an even greater scare for the public. In fact, the CDC reports that only one in five infected patients will get sick.

[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]
[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]
A major fear in relation to the Zika virus is its link to the causation of birth defects in unborn children. If a woman contracts the virus during her pregnancy, there is a risk of microcephaly: a condition where children are born with smaller heads than normal, consequently meaning that their brain is underdeveloped. Children born with microcephaly also have a short life expectancy.

The issue of microcephaly has been a huge problem specifically in Brazil, where the number of cases is over twenty times as high as it has been in the past.

“From October 2015 to January 2016, there were almost 4,000 cases of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil. Before then, there were just 150 cases per year,” says the Sunday Times.

Recently, Jill Dillard (a member of the famous Duggar family) and her husband Derick have been doing missionary work in South America. Jill was born into a family who stood up against the use of birth control, but now she and her husband have some major decisions to make (read more here).

Currently, any U. S. residents diagnosed with Zika contracted it while outside the country. While the Aedes mosquitoes responsible for the transmission of the virus are not native to the United States, there have been reports of the insects migrating into California.

“The mosquito-borne virus appears to be linked to birth defects in newborns,” CBS News reported. “Health officials warned that as many as four million people in the Americas could be infected by the end of the year.”

If you are considering traveling to Mexico, South America or the Caribbean and are pregnant, you may want to reconsider your trip. Regardless of age or situation, it is important to take necessary precautions when heading South this winter.

[Photo by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images]