The Zika virus is causing alarm in North and South America. France, too, reported a sexually-transmitted case of the virus. Reportedly, a women has been infected by her partner after he returned from Brazil. This is the first official report of Zika infection in Paris.
Reportedly, Zika spreads through the Aedes aegypti mosquito bites and transmission through sexual contact is rare. Doctors have yet to figure out the causes and gestation period of the virus in a mosquito population.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) officials urged European nations to prepare for the possibility of a Zika epidemic as the continent moves into summer. The situation, according to officials, “meets the conditions for a public health emergency of international concern.”
The Guardian quoted WHO officials saying, “Up to 46 countries have reported some level of evidence of Zika infection and that 130 countries are home to the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the virus, meaning the eventual spread of the disease could be widespread and rapid.”
The United States has issued a travel alert for pregnant women to delay travel to 14 countries and places in the Americas hit by the Zika virus.
Aedes aegypti reportedly originated in Africa but assumed global presence through contact in trade and travel. The virus is notorious for causing life-threatening diseases such as dengue and chikungunya.
The Zika virus was endemic to few countries in equatorial Africa and Asia. However, in May of this year, “the health department in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco issued an alert to doctors, reporting a spike in babies with brain defects causing microcephaly,” the Globe and Mail reported.
According to Dr. Ana Maria Bispo, a virologist who heads the FioCruz laboratory for flaviviruses, “We don’t know anything at all about this virus. We’re beginning from zero.”
Brazil is highest hit by the Zika Virus. According to Yahoo “Centers for Disease Control (CDC), research in Brazil and Puerto Rico are trying to determine whether the virus can cause microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads, and a rare paralyzing condition, Guillain-Barre, which can be fatal.”
A New York Times post quoted experts saying, “the link between Zika and microcephaly is well established and that the cases were a call to action for the medical community in the United States.”
Brazil reported cases of stillborn babies without a brain, raising alarm in health departments about the dangerous implications on the spread of the Zika virus worldwide. Health officials expect Zika could infect nearly 4 million people as Brazil prepares for the August Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Currently, there is no cure or vaccine against the Zika virus, which causes medical symptoms such as headaches, fever, joint pain and rashes, although most infected patients never show symptoms.
According to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, “An international coordinated response was needed to improve detection and speed work on a vaccine and better diagnostics, although curbs on travel or trade were not necessary.”
Now that Zika has been reported in at least 30 countries, world health officials face the urgency to develop a vaccine against the virus or find an alternative to prevent the epidemic. The vaccine could take years to develop and the crisis is already knocking at our doors. It’s about time to rush international response and research priorities against the spread of the Zika virus.
[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]