In recent months and even in recent days, the story of the Zika Virus pandemic has been gaining international attention. The WHO expects the virus to spread to every country in the Americas quickly. Several cases have already presented in the United States, (Hawaii and Illinois) from women who have traveled abroad.
This flavivirus is mosquito borne and appears to be mostly innocuous flu-like illness for infected adults, but the effects on fetal development are devastating. It was in November 2015 that Zika was first linked to the uptick in microcephaly cases in Brazil; a congenital defect that affected 146 Brazilian infants in 2014, but has affected over 4000 in 2015-2016, according to CNN. Researchers are still in the process of linking causality officially, but some connection appears undeniable.
Especially concerning to the medical community is that currently Zika is not treatable, no vaccine exists, and once a pregnant woman has contracted the illness, nothing can be done to prevent it from affecting her fetus, although quality of life for the infant could be positively affected by early intervention.
Zika has been recently found in 25 Central and South American countries: 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.
This outbreak has health officials concerned. It is a pandemic across the southern North American continent and South America. A major concern is how quickly the Zika virus could spread globally.
However, most media outlets have yet to mention is the terrifying concern that the location of the largest outbreak of the Zika virus and microcephalic births is also the host nation of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Affected visitors and athletes risk carrying the virus home and affecting their native mosquito populations. Airlines are already refunding passengers for tickets purchased for travel to affected countries with physician notes regarding pregnancy and travel, but additional precautions may be needed before the Olympic athletes converge for the games.
Brazil is already taking aggressive steps to eradicate the source of the virus, the Aedes mosquito, but this particular variant has adapted to living indoors with humans and can use even the water in a vase as a breeding ground. The females prefer to bite indoors during the day, so typical mosquito prevention will be less effective in combating the spread of the illness.
As medical professionals what can we do?
- Stay informed of the progression of the Zika virus
- Advise all patients about the disease so that they are aware of the travel concerns and risks associated with potential to spread the disease within their community
- Provide up-to-date travel warnings for any pregnant patients
- Promote strict adherence to mosquito prevention measures especially for pregnant patients
Scientists are scrambling to develop a vaccine while entomologists are busy using various methods to eradicate the Aedes mosquito populations, the efficacy and effects of which remain to be seen.
Outbreak of Microcephaly Connected to Zika Virus in Brazil | HealthMap. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2016, from http://www.healthmap.org/site/diseasedaily/article/outbreak-microcephaly-connected-zika-virus-brazil-12715
Prevention. (2016). Retrieved January 27, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/index.html
The relatively new mosquito-borne virus is connected with a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika or medicine to treat the infection. (n.d.). Zika virus: Airlines are refunding tickets to Latin America. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/27/news/zika-airlines-travel-advisory-refunds/index.html?sr=twCNN012716zika-airlines-travel-advisory-refunds0217PMStoryLink
Zika virus. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2016, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/