The Zika Virus

By Christina Callandrillo

The 2016 Summer Olympics Games were seen as a spark of hope in Rio de Janeiro, potentially shining some light on Brazil’s declining economic situation. Unfortunately, after the World Cup (Brazil, 2014) a virus called “Zika” emerged, affecting 1.5 million people, possibly from Polynesia, says the New York Times. In 1947, during surveillance for yellow fever in the Zika forest of Uganda, the Zika virus was first seen in a captive rhesus monkey. The World Health Organization (WHO) shows that human cases of Zika were not discovered until 1952 in the United Republic of Tanzania. This mosquito-borne Zika virus is currently spreading through Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific.

Zika is transmitted via the Aedes mosquitoes – a genus of tropical and subtropical zones, which also carry diseases like dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever – though the WHO has noted possible sexual transmission in two cases. In these two cases, the virus was found in semen even after the symptoms had disappeared. Mosquitoes in general are known to bite in early morning or evening hours, live near stagnant waters, and show their presence during warm months or in some areas year round, such as Florida and Texas. There has been some global expansion of the Zika virus, as more countries are reporting sporadic infections. Increases have been theorized to be due to global rises in temperature, increasing possible habitats for mosquitoes.

Picture courtesy of

Potential neurological and autoimmune complications are also arising due to Zika virus contraction. In Brazil, there is fear that contracting  the Zika virus increases the chances for Guillain-Barré syndrome – where antibodies attack its own body’s nerves in an autoimmune reaction – which can cause mild to severe cases, possibly leading to paralysis. Meanwhile in El Salvador, more babies are being born with microcephaly, which could be linked to vertical (mother-to-child) transmission of the disease. Microcephaly is an incomplete brain development and abnormal smallness of the head, commonly linked to drug abuse of the pregnant mother. In this case, BBC has reported scientists finding Zika in amniotic fluid, but research is ongoing. Dr. Bruce Aylward, executive director ad interim of the WHO’s Outbreaks and Health Emergencies cluster, noted that they are trying to rule out other causes, which may take another 6-9 months.

El Salvador is a conservative, religious nation, with over 50% of their population of Roman Catholic association, and women here have been urged to try not to get pregnant until 2018 (not a recommendation by the WHO).

Vanessa Iraheta tells the New York Times, “It’s not up to the government; it’s up to God,” speaking for many women questioning whether their rights are truly present.

This matter has begun involving the Catholic Church and its stance on birth control under certain conditions. A drastic decision for women in El Salvador to avoid pregnancy depends on other key factors, such as causation and if the epidemic is at its peak.

Thus far, there is no treatment or vaccine available for the Zika virus and the WHO advises prevention from mosquito bites – bug spray, avoiding travelling to countries seeing cases of Zika, and protected sex. Usually-mild symptoms may include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and malaise or headaches. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that only 1 in 5 infected actually become ill, symptoms usually appearing for only 2-7 days, if appearing at all.

As far as the Rio Olympics are concerned, the CDC has advised pregnant or potentially pregnant women to avoid travelling to areas with Zika outbreaks, including Brazil. During the Olympics, Brazil will be in its winter season, which may reduce mosquito prevalence, but if patrons contract the virus and return to their homes in the heat of summer, it can be transmitted throughout many of their countries. Other areas to avoid include Bolivia, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haití, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Martin, Suriname, Samoa, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.


A map showing the spread of the Zika virus
Map courtesy of



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