If you get bitten by the wrong mosquito, you could get Zika virus. It normally causes mild illness in adults: fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).
But the biggest problem is that it may cause birth defects in unborn babies. It may cause the babies to be born with very small heads (microcephaly). But this scare is based on 35 babies within Brazil, and was not yet confirmed by other studies. Previous reports have shown that mothers pass the virus on to their unborn children. No previous reports talk about microcephaly, and the CDC still considers it confirmed.
Update: Zika is clearly the cause, but it is likely that cross-infection is the true cause. No one is writing about this, and we desperately need to the word out. I’ve written a short book for expecting mothers and people who love them.
Before May of 2015 Zika virus was confined to areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. In May of 2015 it was reported in Brazil. Now we’re getting reports of it spreading far more widely. Here’s the CDC’s map:
The map doesn’t give you a true sense of the problem. The Brazilian ministry of health estimates that at least half a million people in Brazil have come down with the Zika virus this year.
The U.S. should be concerned since the virus seems to be growing very rapidly. One journal reports that the first case of Zika virus has been confirmed in Texas. Two years ago an imported case was confirmed in Germany.
Given the rapid transmission this year, we should be looking at other forms of transmission beyond mosquito bites. Zika virus has been found in both the blood and saliva of those infected. A man in Tahiti developed symptoms that resolved and then returned eight weeks later. Two weeks after the second bout resolved he noticed blood in his semen at the same time that his wife developed symptoms of Zika infection.
First isolated in Uganda in 1947, Zika virus has two major strains: Asian and African. During the past decade, ZIKV has caused 2 large epidemics in Micronesia and French Polynesia. “Since January 2012, the Pacific is experiencing a high burden of mosquito-borne disease due to concurrent epidemics of dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus infections. So far over 120,000 people have been reported to be affected… this epidemic wave of mosquito-borne viruses with 28 new mosquito-borne viral outbreaks… is unprecedented.”
Researchers looking at the spread of Zika virus in Africa concluded that it has altered since its initial discovery. Looking at the PloS map of the progression of the outbreaks, it’s hard not to wonder about mosquitoes compared to human-to-human transmission.
We may not be dealing with something that deadly to most of those infected, but we are dealing with a slow-growing pandemic. Authorities should be crediting the virus with the ability to adapt to different transmission routes. Avoiding mosquito bites may not be enough.