JAN 27, 2016 03:49 PM PST

What's the deal with Zika virus?

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Evans
People are talking about Zika virus, but they don’t have nice things to say.

Zika virus was discovered in 1947 in a monkey and is named for the Zika forest in Uganda.  It is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the same mosquito that spreads dengue virus, but few human cases were reported prior to 2007 - probably because nearly 80% of people are asymptomatic.  For those that do experience symptoms, they are generally mild and include skin rash, joint pain, and fever.
 
Zika virus may cause microcephaly.

So, what’s the big deal?  A recent outbreak of Zika in Brazil has infected anywhere from 500,000 to 1.5 million people and researchers think the virus has serious effects on unborn babies.  According to Emory University’s Uriel Kitron, “Zika is a game-changer.  It appears that this virus may pass through a woman's placenta and impact her unborn child. That's about as scary as it gets”.

Just a few months after the Zika outbreak, microcephaly cases in Brazil increased from just 150 in 2014 to nearly 3,500 as of October.  What’s more, Zika was detected in five newborns that died from microcephaly and in two placentas from miscarried babies with the condition.

The human toll of this virus is quickly coming into focus.  According to Kitron, “the microcephaly cases are a personal tragedy for the families whose babies are affected. They will need much care and support, some of them for decades. The costs to the public health system will be enormous, and Brazil was already experiencing an economic crisis”.
 

Source: Science Daily
About the Author
  • Kerry received a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
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