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Zika Virus: What are the newest facts about its worldwide explosion?

Sexual transmission within the US was recently confirmed

The Aedes aegypti mosquito transmits the Zika virus. It has a "lyre" mark on its thorax and white marks on its legs.

The Zika virus is a primarily mosquito-transmitted infection related to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile virus.

According to the CDC, we get about one new disease  each year that threatens our health.  This is the year for Zika virus.

The Zika virus was discovered in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947 and is common in Africa and Asia. Zika began spreading widely in the Western Hemisphere last May, when an outbreak occurred in Brazil.

Zika virus is primarily transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, a tiny blood-sucking pest that is causing worldwide panic. The Aedes aegypti, is also known as the yellow fever mosquito. It has a “lyre” mark on its thorax and white marks on its legs. Like other mosquitos, it breeds is stagnant water often found in untreated swimming pools, drainage ditches, old tires, or anything else that will hold a small pool of water for several days.

Until now, almost no one on this side of the world had been infected. Few of us have immune defenses against the virus, so it is spreading rapidly.

Zika virus in the United States

The Aedes aegypti mosquito is not new to the US, but had been on the decline since the 1980’s in Southern Florida since the increase of a competitive mosquito, the Asian tiger mosquito, or Aedes albopictus. However, the Zika virus mosquito has surfaced in California since 2013, when there was increased illegal immigration from the South and Central Americas, where the mosquito is present and its diseases widespread. It is likely that the mosquito also travels via cargo ships and airplanes.

On February 2, 2016, the CDC confirmed the first “transmitted” case of Zika virus in the United States. Until then, there were about 30 isolated cases of Zika virus infection in 11 states in the US, all  believed to be directly related to travel outside of the United States.

Dallas County, Texas, has confirmed a case of Zika virus transmitted thru sex with someone who traveled to Venezuela. The confirmed “sexual transmission” case did not travel. Prior to the case in Dallas, health officials and disease experts did not know whether the virus could be spread through sexual contact.

The Mississippi department of Health is reporting no known cases in Mississippi.

Zika spreading ‘explosively’ in other parts of the world

The World Health Organization has addressed Zika virus’s explosive growth, underscoring  “the speed with which a virus that began as an obscure tropical malady afflicting Africa and then several remote Western Pacific islands has transformed into a major international health concern, particularly in the Americas.”

Brazil is the epicenter of Zika virus infection in the Western Hemisphere; the virus has now spread widely in both South America and Central America. Areas where the Zika virus is known to be widespread include many popular vacation destinations for world travelers.Zika WHO map

In Brazil, there is a severe increase in the number of infants born with microcephaly, a neurological condition in which the head and the brain to not grow as expected. Microcephaly is associated with developmental delays, intellectual deficits, seizures and even death. Since October, there have been about 32oo reported cases of microcephalic babies in Brazil alone, as compared to only 136 Brazilian cases during the entire year of 2014. Brazilian health officials have issued advise to women that they not become pregnant until the outbreak is deemed under control, which could easily be two years or more.

Other diseases spread by this mosquito are dengue fever, chikungunya, and yellow fever, some of which are also known to be on the rise in the South and Central American countries.

Symptoms of Zika virus

The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week.

The illness is usually mild, with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. The symptoms are so close to the flu it may be difficult at first to detect. According to the CDC, besides the possibility of causing birth defects, the most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. Rarely, a patient may develop a temporary paralysis after contracting the Zika virus. However severe disease symptoms requiring hospitalization are uncommon.

 It is possible for a pregnant woman to be unaware that she has had the disease, yet give birth to a microcephalic child.

Treatment and prevention of Zika Virus

Zika virus is primarily transmitted by mosquito bite, rather than from one sick person to another. However, the CDC says that some cases of transmission through sexual contact and blood transfusion have been reported, and recently confirmed.

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus, and no known cure for the virus.

Travelers can protect themselves by taking steps to prevent mosquito bites. When traveling to countries where Zika virus has been reported, use insect repellent that contains DEET, wear long sleeves and pants, and stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens. Mosquito netting around the bed is not considered effective, as the Zika virus mosquito feeds mostly during the daylight.

Because Zika virus infection may be linked to reports of birth defects, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel alert in January 2016 for women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant, and who are returning from or planning to travel to Zika-affected countries. Changing travel plans or taking strong protective measures against mosquitoes is advised.

As always, check the area around your home and eliminate all spots where mosquitos can breed.

For more information about Zika virus from the CDC:

For information on sexual transmission: 

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