What is the Zika Virus? And Should We All be Worrying?

By Gary Cutlack on at

The troubling and terrifying Zika virus is the latest global disease menace to hit the headlines, with scores of grim cases of infection and news of the damage it causes emerging from Brazil and other parts of Latin America. With the first case arriving in Europe via confirmation that a Danish citizen has been infected, here's what you need to know.

The "good" news for us, if it can be described as such, is that it's transmitted by mosquito bites, so it's very unlikely to tear through UK society, not unless it mutates into something that can be carried by gnats, nits or cat parasites.

The very bad news for those in countries within Latin America where it's currently taking hold is that there's no vaccine or treatment currently available for Zika, with countermeasures focusing on simply keeping away from carrier mosquitoes and trying to eradicate the pest locally to reduce the chances of a bite.

Symptoms in infected adults aren't particularly horrendous -- fever, conjunctivitis and headaches -- but the possible effects had on children of infected mothers are terrible. The Zika virus has been linked to a rise in cases of microcephaly in Brazil, with "thousands" more babies than usual born with skull and brain deformations since last October and Zika infection the likely trigger.

The worry for potential parents is that not all Zika infections result in symptoms being displayed in adults, so the worse case scenario of an unaware infected woman becoming pregnant and giving birth to a baby with microcephaly is one that seems to be playing out right now.

It's such a worry that Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica have all issued advice to women suggesting they delay becoming pregnant, with the Pan American Health Organisation not offering much more in the way of advice than avoid mosquitoes; as if people who already live in threat of dengue and yellow fever haven't got that message.

Image credit: Mosquito bite from Shutterstock

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