What Is The Zika Virus And Why Is The U.S. Government Restricting Travel To South America?

The U.S. government last week advised pregnant women not to travel to Central or South America on account of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

“We believe this is a fairly serious problem,” Dr. Lyle R. Petersen of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said. “This virus is spreading throughout the Americas. We didn’t feel we could wait.” 

The message was that pregnant women, or women considering becoming pregnant, should exercise “enhanced precautions” when traveling to these places: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

What Is The Zika Virus?

The virus was discovered in 1947 in the Zika forest of Uganda; although common in Africa, it had not been recorded in the Western Hemisphere until last May, when an outbreak occurred in Brazil. With no immune defenses against this brand new virus in the West, it has been spreading rapidly.

Zika is an infection transmitted by mosquitoes, which is exactly how malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, chikungunya, and West Nile virus are passed along.

How does this work? Female mosquitoes need protein in order to procreate, and they get it by feeding on warm-blooded creatures, including birds, horses, and people. When a mosquito first bites an infected creature, and then bites you, it can pass the disease into your bloodstream.

There are many species of mosquitoes; Zika is spread by mosquitoes of the Aedes species, which breeds in small pools of water.

According to The New York Times,

The aggressive yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, has spread most Zika cases, but that mosquito is common in the United States only in Florida, along the Gulf Coast, and in Hawaii – although it has been found as far north as Washington in hot weather.

The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, is also known to transmit the virus, but it is not clear how efficiently. That mosquito ranges as far north as New York and Chicago in summer.

Here’s a map, issued by the CDC, which shows all the countries where the Zika virus has been transmitted. The dark purple indicates “Locally-acquired cases or virus isolation,” while the lighter, dotted areas indicate “Serosurvey data only.”

Zika-Map

Photo Credit: CDC

For most people the virus is not deadly, or even very serious. Symptoms include fever, a rash, joint pain and red eyes, but they generally don’t last more than a week.

But while the effect of the Zika virus on most humans is not usually dangerous, that’s not the case for a fetus. Infection with the virus appears to be linked to the development of unusually small heads and brain damage in newborns, which is the reason for the Level 2 warning from the CDC.

Zika Virus In Brazil

Since the Zika Virus was first diagnosed in Brazil last May, there have been an alarming number of birth defects recorded.

From The Washington Post:

Brazil is investigating more than more than 2,400 suspected cases of microcephaly and 29 deaths of infants that occurred this year. Last year the country saw only 147 cases of microcephaly.

The situation in Brazil is so overwhelming that Angela Rocha, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist in Pernambuco, one of the hardest hit states, said in an interview with CNN that women may want to hold off on getting pregnant.

“These are newborns who will require special attention their entire lives. It’s an emotional stress that just can’t be imagined…,” Rocha said. “We’re talking about a generation of babies that’s going to be affected.”

Zika Virus In The U.S.

The CDC has said that there are at least “a dozen or so” confirmed cases of Zika virus in residents who recently traveled to countries where the mosquito-borne virus is spreading.

While the agency cannot provide a complete breakdown of these cases, since states have to authorize releasing that information, it has confirmed that the number of cases is from 2015 to date, and that confirmed cases are in Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Texas. At this point, all the confirmed cases in the U.S. have been in travelers returning from other countries where the Zika virus is known to exist, so it appears likely that they were infected abroad and not in the U.S. mainland.

Fighting Mosquitoes

South American countries have tried hard to wipe out those pesky mosquitoes that carry diseases. Brazil has even used the military to destroy the places where these insects live; Mexico is struggling to defeat dengue fever, which is gaining a deadly hold, by testing its first vaccine, while Colombia is using mosquitoes treated with bacteria to prevent the spread of dengue fever.

For Brazil, it remains to be seen if the threat of the Zika virus will have any impact on this year’s Summer Olympic Games, scheduled to begin in Rio de Janeiro on August 5.

106 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Mari 's
Mari 's2 years ago

Sharing ty

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STEPHEN SPATHAS
STEPHEN SPATHAS2 years ago

Just another attempt of U.S.A. military labs, to control worldwide population along with HIV and AIDS. Best testing area is Africa (always !) but accidents always are happening !

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H M.
H M2 years ago

All right, Andrea G., so who's responsible for the Zika virus being in Uganda in the first place?

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Roberto MARINI
Roberto MARINI2 years ago

Thank you for this article

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Virginia Abreu de Paula

We don't have a really good basic sanitation in Brazil. We lots of of cases of Leishmanioses too.

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Dita ŠkaliĨ

Let us hope they will limit the viruses with vaccines and protection against mosquitoes. Destroying waters is not a good idea; even if the insects breed less because of that, there will be many other bad consequences, including even more climate change.

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Manuela C.
Manuela C2 years ago

There's no certainty that the virus really causes fetus problems, the cause may be another... But we don't really know.

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Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Doesn't matter- be here soon.

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N B.
Nancy B2 years ago

Oops, let me correct my typing. Viruses don't care who you are or where you were born.

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