Zika Virus Officially Linked to Brain Damage
Zika virus has been all over the news recently. This is due to its rapid spread to countries which has never had to deal with the potentially devastating virus. In fact, on February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
So, where did this virus originate and why is it suddenly spreading?
Origins of Zika Virus
Zika virus was discovered in 1947 in samples taken from a rhesus monkey. Its name derives from the location it was found, the Zika forest in Uganda. Soon after, it was discovered that the Aedes aegypti mosquitos were a vector for the virus. The first human cases of Zika were detected in 1952 and have since been reported in Africa and Southeast Asia.
In 2007, Zika spread across the Pacific to the island of Yap, resulting in a large outbreak. The first reports of locally transmitted infection in South America came from Brazil in May 2015. The virus then spread to other South American countries rapidly, through the range occupied by Aedes mosquitos.
On the last day of 2015, the United States reported the first confirmed case of locally acquired Zika infection in Puerto Rico. The first known case of Zika virus transmission in the United States was in February of 2016. To date, there have been over 500 cases of Zika reported in the United States, all of which were travel-associated.
Transmission of Zika
By now, it is well accepted that the main method of Zika transmission is through the Aedes aegypti mosquito. These mosquitos can bite up to five people in one blood meal, lending to the rapid spread of the disease. Though these mosquitos can travel several hundred kilometers over the open ocean, Zika virus infections are expected to be carried worldwide by international travel or trade involving an infected person or mosquito.
Surprisingly, the virus has also been confirmed to be sexually transmissible. This was found as individuals who have not travelled outside of the United States contracted the virus upon being intimate with their (male) partners who have travelled to Zika-infected countries. It’s currently unknown whether or not Zika can be transmitted through saliva or vaginal fluids.
The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle pain and headache. Most people won’t present with any symptoms at all, but for those that do, the illness typically subsides within a week.