Zika virus spreads, hits United States

Last week, the WHO declared the Zika virus a public health emergency.

Jessie Bekker

The Zika virus has officially become an international public health concern as of last Monday, when the World Health Organization called for a coordinated international response to the virus and its spread.
 
 
Areas of South America, Oceania and Africa are under travel alerts, and more than 40 travel-related cases have been confirmed in the U.S.
 
 
The number of reported cases in the states is likely to increase, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding that anyone who lives in or travels to a Zika-infected country is at risk of contracting the disease.
 
 
The virus’ symptoms are mild and include fever, rash and joint pain lasting up to a week.  It’s very rare for Zika patients to become seriously ill or die, according to the CDC. 
 
 
A 60-year-old Minnesota woman made the list of infected Americans last month following a trip to Honduras. There have been no subsequent cases reported in the state.
 
 
The country’s first domestically acquired case was confirmed Tuesday in Dallas, when a patient was infected sexually by someone who had recently traveled to a plagued region.
 
 
State health department officials said the mosquito transmitting the virus — the day-biting Aedes species known for transmitting chikungunya and Dengue fever — isn’t found in Minnesota, so the disease isn’t likely to spread.
 
 
And while travel warnings have been issued for areas spanning the Pacific Islands to countries in South America and the Caribbean, CDC officials still aren’t recommending avoiding at-risk areas for those who are not pregnant.
 
 
Instead, officials have advised travelers to cover their bodies with long sleeves and pants, use insect repellents and sleep screened-in. The best method to prevent infection, according to the CDC, is to shield the body from mosquito bites, especially during the day.
 
 
A vaccine isn’t on the market, and while the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is testing three viable candidates, CDC experts said they don’t anticipate an immunization to be ready in the next few years. 
 
 
There is no medicine to treat the disease.
 
 
Women who are pregnant or could become pregnant are at risk of birthing babies with microcephaly, a lifelong condition characterized by an unusually small head, developmental delays, seizures and problems with hearing and vision.
 
Rarely, an infected pregnant woman can pass the Zika virus on to her baby. 
 
 
Due to potential risks, pregnant women are advised to postpone travel or speak with a physician before leaving the country.
 
 
Though first discovered in 1947, Zika infected people in Africa and Southern Asia sporadically, before officials documented an outbreak in the Pacific in 2007. Today’s outbreak stems from Brazil, where an increase in cases first surfaced last May.
 
 
To date, experts remain unsure of the virus’ characteristics, like how long it’s in the body until symptoms appear, how it interacts with other diseases spread by mosquitos and ticks or which tests and vaccines might be effective in curbing its spread.