The Zika virus seems to have been in the news for a while now and we’ve all seen the awful pictures of babies born with microcephaly, but what is this mysterious virus, and what makes it a public health emergency?
What is Zika?
It’s a virus, which normally isn’t that harmful, but has been proven to cause both microcephaly, an abnormally small head caused by incomplete brain development, and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition in which the immune system attacks the nervous system. It is now also thought it may cause other neurological complications.
Where did Zika Come from?
You could be forgiven for thinking Zika was a newly discovered virus, as it did seem to be brought to our attention very suddenly, however this current outbreak is not the first instance of the virus being present. It was first identified in Uganda in 1947, in monkeys. The first known case in humans was recorded in 1952. Since then there have been cases reported throughout Africa and Asia, with the first large outbreak occurring in 2007. So while it’s by no means new, this current Zika Health emergency is the worst, and the first time the virus has been linked to other conditions.
How Does It Spread?
Zika is transmitted to humans from the bite of an Aedes mosquito, which also spreads Yellow fever. Humans can pass it from pregnant mother to unborn child; and to each other through sex, even if no symptoms are present, as well as through blood transfusions.
What are the Symptoms?
Generally, symptoms of Zika are considered mild, and may include, fever, rash, muscle pains, conjunctivitis and headache. These symptoms normally last for around a week.
Why is it so Dangerous?
While the symptoms are usually mild, and require no treatment, Zika is still considered a health emergency because of the complications it can cause. In some ways, the mild symptoms make it more dangerous as it can be harder to spot. When symptoms present much like a cold or flu, there’s no reason to be particularly careful, which has caused a wide spread of the disease, with it now being confirmed in 23 different countries, as well as several states across America.
Research is being done by students in a master of public health course into how the virus spreads in humans, with scientists trying to determine how it can cause these complications. Hopefully such research and a greater understanding of the virus will lead to a vaccine. Some experimental tests have shown promise, but until then, pregnant women are urged to check with a medical professional before traveling, and seek urgent medical advice if they should come into contact with anyone who may have been exposed, even where no symptoms present.
Any healthcare professionals with an interest in learning more about contemporary health emergencies should perhaps consider studying a master of public health to further their knowledge, and join in with the research that could help stop the spread of diseases like Zika. There is also the option to study a masters in public health online to further expand your knowledge.