Even though the Zika virus was discovered in 1947, it was not until an outbreak in the past year that it rapidly spread. In May 2015, Zika was spread through Brazil by Aedes mosquitoes. Several areas including South America, the Pacific Islands, Central America, the Caribbean and one Singapore area reported to have high risks of Zika virus infections. Recently in Miami Beach, Florida, it was reported that this virus is spreading locally by mosquitoes.
While deaths are rare, only one in five people will show symptoms of Zika. This includes a mild fever, sore red eyes, headaches, joint pain and rashes. However, infections are more severe in women who are pregnant or with partners who are sexually active. Zika can be transmitted sexually as well.
This virus is linked to birth defects and, in rare cases, can cause life-threatening issues to the brain. Zika infections cause infants in pregnant women to develop microcephaly. Microcephaly results in an abnormally small head in an infant, which also causes poor development in their brain and learning disabilities. The severity ranges, but in extreme cases, the brain may be so underdeveloped that it disturbs the functions vital to life.
After the first baby in Spain was born with brain damage from Zika, there were many concerns about contracting the virus while traveling to the Olympics. A study from the U.S. researched that 3 to 37 people out of 500,000 going to the Olympics would contract Zika. This study was meant to control the panic about Zika because of athletes and spectators who feared going to the Olympics this summer. While another study published in Nature Microbiology wrote that 1.65 million women in Central and South America would contract the disease, the tourists who saw the games should be fine.
These predictions ended up being very accurate. The World Health Organization came out and said that no Zika cases occurred during the Olympics and that the Paralympics would most likely hold the same result. This is credible because Rio is in their winter season and the mosquito population is low during the winters. Also, the number of recorded cases were steadily dropping before the Olympics.
While, thankfully, there were no cases there, South Florida has unfortunately had cases of Zika. All of these cases were non-travel related and, after some looking, health workers found mosquitoes with the Zika virus in Miami Beach. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a travel advisory for the beach and Governor Rick Scott ordered aerial sprayings for the community. Officials also warn against bromeliads, which are plants found in the tropical Americas. When bromeliads collect water, they become breeding grounds for insects, especially mosquitoes.
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the World Health Organization “declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency.”
Currently no vaccines are available for this virus, so health officials advise people to use insect repellent containing DEET, cover exposed skin with long clothes and keep windows and doors closed. Officials also recommend pregnant women to avoid traveling in affected areas and warn pregnant women and their sexual partners to take extra precaution. While money is being put into research for a vaccine, insecticide is frequently used in affected areas.