On January 28th, last Thursday, the World Health Organization alarmed the world with news of the “explosive spreading” of the Zika virus in the Americas. The W.H.O reported to the New York Times, “As many as four million people could be infected by the end of the year.”
Many scientists have indicated that there is a high chance the Zika virus is linked to microcephaly, which is a rare form of birth defect where infants are born with “abnormally small heads and damaged brains.” Pregnant women are thus advised to stay away from countries infected with Zika. The government of El Salvador even warned women to hold back from pregnancy at least until the year 2018.
The Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted disease that was first discovered in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947. Once prevalent around the regions of Africa and Asia, the Zika virus has now made its turn towards the Western soil. Last October, microcephaly cases first abruptly emerged in northern Brazil, where the usual number of only 150 cases suddenly escalated to nearly 4,000 cases of babies born with such conditions. And since Brazil’s discovery of Zika, the number of microcephaly cases have grown exponentially in the Americas.
Due to the abnormally small head, the affected infant’s brain would either stop growing at its undeveloped state during pregnancy, causing “developmental delays, intellectual deficits, or even hearing loss” (New York Times). But because nearly no Westerner has previously been infected and only a few possess immunity against the virus, the Zika virus was able to spread in such rapid, explosive pace.
The early symptoms for the pregnant mothers include rash, joint pain, red eyes, or fever. Yet at the same time, the infection does not always produce direct, visible pain upon the victim. Even women with no symptoms at all may have been infected, as 80 percent of those infected did not actually feel ill.
However, what’s even more pivotal is that despite years of striving to develop a Dengue vaccine, there has been no success yet. “There is no way to fix the problem, just therapies to deal with the downstream consequences,” stated Dr. Hannah M. Tully, a neurologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital to the New York Times.
According to the Pan American Health Organization, the Zika virus would eventually spread to nearly all countries within the Caribbean, Central America, and South America except Canada and Chile. Nonetheless, the rapid spreading of the Zika can be conducive to the constant flow of tourists especially during the warm regions in South America like Brazil. Global health authorities are indeed faced with the challenge of quickly extending the news without provoking panic, as if to refrain from the past failures with the battle against Ebola in West Africa.
In the U.S, there are currently 36 people across 11 states, including Washington D.C, who were reported to have been detected with the Zika virus. And all of these infectants appear to have acquired the virus outside of the U.S.
In countries of Latin America, several governments have begun attempting to hinder women from further pregnancy, as Giselle Carino, the deputy director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s (IPPF) western hemisphere region, reported to The Guardian news: “We are calling for governments to expand access to contraception, particularly for groups that have low incomes. Then they must expand access to safe abortion services and we need an awareness campaign so women know about the risk of Zika and are aware of their options if they find themselves pregnant.”
The sudden outbreak of the Zika virus is threatening the world. The way certain countries in South America are countering the virus, such as promoting the idea of contraception and abortion services for pregnant women, is also becoming a controversy. There is currently no cure for the Zika; all we can do for now is hope for the best.
– Sammie Kim (18′)