The world’s latest health scare is Zika: a tropical, mosquito-borne virus that holds little danger for most people, but could completely derail the lives of some. Most often, the virus which is sweeping Latin America causes only mild symptoms – with many people never even realising they have it. But health officials suspect it may be behind a surge in cases of microcephaly, a condition which causes babies to develop abnormally small brains and skulls — leading to permanent disability or death. The outbreak has seen some countries urging couples not to get pregnant, while the US Centers for Disease Control has warned pregnant women to avoid travelling to 22 affected nations.

On Tuesday, US health authorities confirmed the virus had been transmitted by sexual contact – by someone infected in Venezuela who came home to a partner in Texas.

Here’s what we know about the virus.

What is Zika?

The virus gets its name comes from a forest in Uganda where it was first discovered in infected rhesus monkeys in 1947. Within years, the virus had spread to humans in Uganda and Tanzania, according to the World Health Organisation. Like dengue fever and chikungunya, two similar diseases, Zika is transmitted by mosquito species found in tropical and sub-tropical regions: Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, or tiger mosquitoes.


How do I know if I have it?

In 70 to 80 per cent of cases, the disease goes unnoticed. The symptoms resemble those of a mild case of the flu – headache, muscle and joint pain, and mild fever – plus a rash. Symptoms last about two to seven days.

Why are experts worried?

The virus is suspected of causing two serious complications, though it has not been scientifically linked to either: microcephaly in babies, and Guillain-Barre syndrome. A surge in microcephaly and other brain deformities in newborns has been reported in areas hit by the current Zika outbreak, particularly in Brazil. Microcephaly cases in the South American country surged from 163 live births on average per year, to more than 4,000 in the current outbreak. Forty-nine babies have died. Many foetuses die in the womb. Guillain-Barre is a disorder in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. Most patients recover, but the syndrome can sometimes be deadly. Cases believed to be linked to Zika have been reported in Brazil and French Polynesia.

A cure for Zika?

An Indian pharmaceutical firm claims that it has developed the world’s first vaccine against mosquito-borne Zika virus, the News Agency of Nigeria has reported. The Head of the Biotech International Limited, Dr. Krishna Ella, said at a news conference that it had already filed for a patient for the Zika vaccine.

“On Zika, we are probably the first vaccine company in the world to file a vaccine candidate patient about nine months ago,” he said.



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Cynthia Isuekebhor