Zika officially linked to Microcephaly

Zika officially linked to Microcephaly

Dahlia Cruz, Staff Writer

EBC Agência Brasil, Brazil’s official news agency, has recently reported that scientists from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro have uncovered the genome of the Zika virus and have concluded that it does in fact have a connection with the birth defect microcephaly and the Guillain-Barré syndrome.

The World Health Organization has declared the spread of Zika an international emergency. The World Bank has committed $150 million to the fight against Zika.

Zika is a disease spread by mosquitoes that, if contracted by pregnant women, can result in babies born with brain damage known as microcephaly, characterized by extremely small heads and shortened life spans.

Latin American governments have urged women to practice celibacy and practice safe sex to avoid pregnancies for times ranging from 6 months until 2018. The United States government has issued a travel advisory to Latin America, and many travel destinations such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean Islands.

Aggressive attempts are being made by South America governments to control the virus. Insecticides are being heavily used in breeding areas like small ponds of water and other habitats. Brazil has also partnered up with Ozitec, a British company, which will release genetically modified mosquitoes into the area at an attempt to lower the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito which is responsible for carrying the virus. The genetically modified Aedes aegypti are all non-viable males. They do not bite; only females do. Also, though females will still get pregnant and lay eggs. Their larvae will not survive to adulthood.

In 2015, Brazil reported over 3,000 cases of newborns diagnosed with microcephaly, 20% more than the previous year the NY Times reported.

ZikababyScientists believe the rise in outbreaks and the spread of the disease originated during Brazil’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup. The virus existed before. However, a different strain was discovered to be linked to the Zika virus from the French Polynesian islands. Those in the Latin Americas had no previous exposure to this strain. It is suspected that someone with the Zika virus attended the world cup and was bitten by a mosquito which quickly spread the disease.

Officials are concerned that Brazil’s Carnival and the 2016 Olympics, which are to be held there, will pose a further danger in assisting the spread of the disease. Athletes have been asked to reconsider their attendance as there is limited knowledge in the disease’s long-term effects, even for those who are not pregnant.

Microcephaly is a defect that causes a newborn brain to develop smaller than usually. It can also lead to developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, hearing and sight loss. Guillain-Barré causes the body’s immune system to attack the peripheral nervous system and can lead to paralysis. Unfortunately, it can be contracted by anyone and cause symptoms.

These issues and other deformations have appeared in cases in thousands of newborns born to mothers infected with the virus during pregnancy. Millions have been infected in mostly Latin America, with more cases reported in North America, the Pacific Islands and Cape Verde, located off the West coast of Africa. The Zika virus is relatively low-risk for those who aren’t pregnant as 1 in 5 experience symptoms and the virus can be gone from the blood stream as soon as 6 days. It is rarely fatal for healthy adults.

Qubilah Felix and Rob Dixon, both juniors of AIC, feel sympathy for those dealing with the virus in South America but are not too concerned, just yet.

Felix majors in liberal studies with a minor in psychology. She offered her thoughts on the Zika outbreak.

“Personally, I’m not really worried because the symptoms for healthy people are things like joint pains, which I’ve dealt with all my life. People don’t die from it,” Felix said.

“But seriously, the effects on newborns are not a joke. If you are not afraid of living life with consequences and you are pregnant, then travel. But if you are wise for the sake of your child and listen to what doctors are saying, then you better YouTube your vacation and pretend you’re there,” she added.

Dixon is majoring in criminal justice, and hopes that the Zika virus does not become an issue around here.

“What makes me nervous is that I’m from Boston and a lot of internationals come through the airport,” Dixon said.

“I wouldn’t want the virus spread from one of them to mosquitos around Boston because I have pregnant women in my family. I’m more concerned for them.”