Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US has posted warnings about pregnant women travelling to certain countries in Africa and South America because of a mosquito-carried virus possible causing brain damage in Brazil. Some epidemiologists are predicting that it may even reach the United States. It’s been reported that there are some cases already in the US, but apparently these were brought in by people already infected from other countries. So what is this “new” virus and what does it cause?
Brazilian health officials have linked the outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus to a disturbingly large increase in the number of babies born with small heads (microcephaly or smaller than usual skull and brain size). This increase is at a rate 20 times higher than the annual number of cases normally seen. This virus has been around for some time now, but with the large number of babies infected and the 2016 Summer Olympics being held in Brazil, health officials are concerned about the possible exposure to more people. At least 40 of the affected babies have died, and those who survive may face a lifetime of impaired intellectual development.
Does it only affect pregnant mothers and their babies?
NO! In addition to babies, Zika virus infections have been linked to an increase in the number of cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). This is an auto-immune disorder in which the immune system attacks part of the nervous system. This leads to weakness beginning in the legs and travelling upwards in the body. Normally GBS is self-limited affecting muscles throughout the body. Severe cases can cause paralysis and death. It’s not certain that the Zika virus is responsible for GBS in Brazil, but there is an increase in the number of new cases in other countries where the Zika virus is spreading.
Which mosquito carries this virus?
The virus is carried by Aedes aegypti, the same species of mosquito that spreads other serious viral diseases (yellow fever, dengue fever and Chikungunya). The link between microcephaly and the Zika virus has not been scientifically confirmed because only some of the affected babies in Brazil have tested positive for infection. According to the CDC, no published scientific reports have associated microcephaly with other viral diseases spread by mosquitoes.
Why the increase in microcephaly only in Brazil?
There have been no unusual increases in microcephaly reported in other countries where widespread Zika virus infections have occurred. Virologists speculate that a connection might not have been recognized in parts of Africa where the virus originated. or that the particular strain of the virus to reach Brazil could be to blame.
There have been reported outbreaks of Zika occurring in many parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. The one in Brazil began in May, 2015 and was the first to occur in the Americas. It has now spread to 24 countries. Some infectious disease specialists have predicted that mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus will find their way to the US.
What are the symptoms of Zika virus infection?
Common symptoms of infection include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes, as well as muscle pain, headache, pain behind the eyes and vomiting. The illness usually is mild, beginning 3 to 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito and typically lasting several days to a week. Severe disease resulting from Zika virus infection is rare. There have been no adult deaths reported.
What is microcephaly?
Microcephaly can be caused by genetic abnormalities and by exposure to toxic substances or viral infections such as rubella (German measles) and herpes during pregnancy. The CDC recommends that travelers to Latin America take precautions to avoid mosquito bites and advises pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant to consider postponing travel to countries where Zika is present. In addition, the CDC also recommends that pregnant women who feel sick after returning from any of the countries where Zika virus infections have occurred be tested for exposure.
Preventing mosquitoes from biting you
There are several ways to minimize your exposure to mosquitoes and possibly the Zika virus. These include:
- Wear mosquito repellent – There are a variety of specially-formulated insect repellents are available for sale at camping or sporting goods stores. Apply insect repellent to uncovered skin surfaces when outdoors, especially during the day. When using sunscreen, apply it before insect repellent.
- Consider an all-natural solution – Experiment with non-chemical solutions such as Citronella (natural plant oil). Tea tree oil and vitamin B-complex have reportedly helped some people repel mosquitoes. As with any product, their effectiveness depends on the situation, your own skin chemistry, and the exact type of mosquito you are dealing with. I personally use a mixture of Oil of Citronella and ARIIX Priime Sentry Essential Oils. If you are interested in the formula,
- Wear loose, long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors – One of the best ways to keep mosquitoes from biting you is to simply cover your skin. Wear your sleeves and pant legs as long as possible to cover as much skin as possible. Also keep your clothing as loose as possible because in hot, humid conditions, loose clothing is more comfortable to wear. But more importantly, mosquitoes sometimes bite through clothing that is tight against the skin. Also wear dark clothing, not bright colors.
“Possible association between zika virus and microcephaly,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed January 27, 2016, http://www.cdc.gov/zika/pdfs/possible-association-between-zika-virus-and-microcephaly.pdf