If someone had mentioned the Zika Virus to you just a couple of years ago, odds are you wouldn’t have known what they were talking about. The flu-like illness has been rampant in less developed countries like Africa and a few of the Pacific islands for more than 70 years, but those in America had never been subjected to it. Now, the CDC has issued a national alert, warning those traveling to use extreme caution as the virus has entered the United States.
The virus was never considered much of a threat. Though it’s mosquito-born, it’s characterized by a mild fever, body aches, and a rash at its very worse. Some flu strains are considered to be much worse than that, but the CDC is considered because of a possible connection with birth defects in pregnant women who contract the illness. There is the slightest possibility that those who have the illness may give birth to an infant with microcephaly, a very serious birth defect that causes the infant’s head to shrink.
With this announcement, the CDC, medical professionals, and countless other researchers have been scrambling to get a handle on the disease and develop tools to not only conduct more research, but also to develop some kind of vaccination.
The situation has become even more serious. It has not only permeated the lower Americas, infecting millions, including 5,000 pregnant women in Columbia, but has also begun to leak into the United States. Maryland just confirmed it’s first case of the Zika virus, which can easily be spread if a mosquito or other biting insect bites the host and spreads it to other humans.
Scientists are kicking themselves at the lack of research that has been done on the virus. One researcher took to Twitter to share his outrage at the neglect of research that has been done on the virus just because it hadn’t yet reached the United States and other developed countries. Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, MD, and disease detective posted a photo of a very small stack of papers with the caption, “Entire world literature on Zika. 50 years of neglect.”
Entire world literature on Zika. 50 years of neglect. pic.twitter.com/iX7zbJSTC5
— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrFriedenCDC) February 12, 2016
Thankfully, research on the virus is spreading quickly. Texas, one of the states most concerned about the virus thanks to their proximity to the Mexican border, has begun researching the virus in earnest. They’re currently leading testing on the virus thanks to the gear they collected during the Ebola scare of 2014. It’s given them a leg up on the research front to determine the effects.
“The ability to test for the Zika virus is a game changer for the area,” said Dallas County health director Zachary Thompson.
Various tests and studies are being performed to help determine important things about the disease and its effects, such as how it spreads, how it will affect the body, long term health effects, feasibility of birth defects, and chances of an outbreak in the United States. Thompson is confident that the virus will be transmitted to Texas, and as a result, he’s making sure everyone is prepared to handle it when it happens.
Thanks to their efforts, it may not be long before a vaccination is developed if it’s possible to do so. For now, the WHO and CDC are strongly recommending those traveling take major precautions as the Zika virus “spreads explosively” through the Americas.
Specifically, they advise that those who are pregnant or who may become pregnant avoid traveling across the southern border, and that they take extreme precautions if travel is unavoidable. Drug developers will continue to search for answers, but until that time, American’s should be very wary of the Zika virus and its resulting health effects.
[Image via Victor Moriyama/Getty Images]