Reading the news has both pros and cons. The pros are that you stay well-informed about the many occurrences in the world and you gain knowledge that would otherwise be lacking. The cons include becoming paranoia, a negative outlook on life and the world, and becoming biased about topics you may not even know that much about. The worst part about reading the news is reading about terrible things happening in the world that you cannot directly control or alleviate. The Zika virus seems to be an example of the latter, but with public awareness we can begin to make a difference.
According to Fox News, as of February 15, 2016, more than 5,000 pregnant women in Columbia have the Zika virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conclude that about 1 in 5 people infected with the mosquito-borne virus become ill. Symptoms include fever, rash and joint pain, among others. Luckily, people infected with the virus rarely end up in the hospital and the virus does not prove to be fatal. However, its health implications are far more severe than previously thought.
Until recently, the virus was considered benign (Vox). Discovered in 1947 in Uganda, Zika caused some people to break out into rashes with some minor aches and pains, while others experienced no symptoms of infection. However, in 2015, when the virus presented itself in Brazil, everything changed. Brazil is highly populated and has a very warm, moist climate, which creates a perfect home for mosquitos. Because people in Brazil have never been exposed to the virus, they have no immunity.
Over the past year, doctors in Brazil noticed that pregnant women infected with the virus birth babies with microcephaly. The birth defect is characterized by an abnormally small head and unfinished brain development.“Doctors, pediatricians, neurologists, they started finding this thing we never had seen,” said Dr. Celina M. Turchi, an infectious disease researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil. “Children with normal faces up to the eyebrows…no foreheads and very strange heads” (Berkeley Science Review). Pediatric neurologists in Brazil have also found that the virus is linked to Guillain-Barré, which “can cause tingling, weakness and sometimes even paralysis of the legs, arms, face and respiratory muscles which last weeks to years” (US News and World Report).
Unfortunately, devising a reliable and widely available diagnostic test for the virus is no easy feat because the supposed test works only for the first few days of illness when the virus is still in the blood. Antibody tests are too vague to clearly determine Zika from related viruses such as dengue. Further, current tests are not available worldwide because ”they require specialized laboratories” (article).
The testing and approval of a vaccine for the mosquito-borne illness is expected to take three to five years. Some experts have said that focusing on the virus itself does not take advantage of available resources. Instead, they argue that “scientists and drug companies should develop vaccines and therapies that target whole categories of viruses.” Along with helping the world’s current situation, this broader approach could potentially help protect the world against future outbreaks (News Medical).
So why does it matter that people have an understanding of this manifesting illness? Because public awareness is key to controlling the mosquito-borne illness. People need to take responsibility by “dumping out containers with standing water around their homes” and by “wearing protective clothing or using insect repellent” (US News and World Report). It is also important for people to visit a doctor if they are experiencing Zika-like symptoms.
As of February 25, 2016, health officials are investigating 14 new reports of the mosquito-borne illness, which is suspected to have been sexually transmitted, further asserting the need for safe sex practices. According to VOA News, only some of the cases involve pregnant women. “In two of the new suspected sexual transmission events, Zika virus infection has been confirmed in women whose only known risk factor was sexual contact with an ill male partner who had recently traveled to an area with local Zika virus transmission; testing for the male partners is still pending,” the CDC said in a statement (NBC).
Along with the statement, the CDC advised travelers to be aware of the illness and recommended that men who have traveled to zones affected by the virus to take appropriate contraceptive measures if they want to ensure they don’t infect their partner.
Similarly, even Pope Francis announced at a press conference that it would not be an “absolute evil” if pregnant women at risk of contracting the Zika virus were to use contraceptives in order to avoid bearing babies with microcephaly.
The Zika virus is winning the fight right now, but with enough public education and support, we have the power to beat this growing outbreak. People need to do their part and learn about this mosquito-borne illness because ignorance will only accelerate the virus’ impact on human health and well-being. The more you know about Zika, the more equipped you will be to not only protect yourself, but future generations.
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