St. Genevieve High School

Zika Virus: root of head abnormalities

Over 4,000 babies were born with small heads in Brazil. Researchers have linked the cause to the Zika virus, a disease transmitted by mosquitos. An alert regarding the first Zika virus infection was confirmed in Brazil during May 2015.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Zika virus has been prevalent in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Recently, the virus has spread to other parts of the nation. Travelers returning from countries that the virus has been prominent in have been the main reason for the outbreaks in the United States.

Despite the recent outbreaks, there are little known facts about the virus. For years, the virus has been found mainly in Africa and Asia, thus having limited geographic distribution. The virus originated in Africa, but little is known how it made its jump to Brazil. According to the NY Times, researchers believe that the virus was transmitted by worldwide travelers during the 2014 World Cup, an international soccer competition held in Brazil.

Although there is a limited understanding of the virus, people have linked the Zika virus to microcephaly. According to the CDC, microcephaly is a birth defect in which a baby’s head does not develop properly because the brain is not growing. Occurrences of microcephaly are rare; there are about two babies born with the defect out of 10,000 born. The virus has been recently observed in Brazil, where more and more cases of microcephaly have surfaced. Even though the link has not yet been confirmed, the Brazilian government is trying to prevent any spread of the virus, especially for those who are pregnant.

“If you are not pregnant and get this virus, it is not a big deal. You get red eyes, achy joints, flu-like symptoms and then it clears,” Biology teacher Dr. Hunter said. “But if a person is pregnant, this virus is very severe. They just do not want the unborn baby, who is at the highest risk of getting the virus, to get it.”

In order to prevent the spread of this virus, people who are not in immediate exposure are being warned not to travel. Those in areas where the virus is prevalent are being told to avoid mosquito breeding grounds, to wear protective clothing, and to use bug repellent.

“What’s really interesting is that they think they have a vaccine faster than they thought they would,” Dr. Hunter said. “The reason is that there is a family of viruses similar to this one that we already know a lot about so they’re using that to try to develop a vaccine that may also work for this.”

On Feb. 1, the World Health Organization declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern after they saw a rise of this virus. According to the WHO, the virus has spread to more than 25 countries.

“No matter what, it’s an interesting reflection of our public health system and how it’s handled,” said Dr. Hunter. “We’re getting better at how to manage it and handle it. They are communicating more directly to the public about it than the past, and it’s good that they’re connecting this to what it can do and doing something about it.”