Tuesday, 15 March 2016

What is the Zika virus and actually how dangerous is it?

by Charlotte Randall

The Zika virus disease is a disease caused by the Zika virus, which is transmitted through a bite of an infected mosquito (very similar to malaria.) While incidents of Zika virus have occurred before, especially noted after its discovery on 1947, the current pandemic, confirmed throughout South America in October, has gained huge publicity. While the total number of cases cannot be confirmed, as some symptoms of the disease are so minimal they are ignored, it is estimated that thousands have come into contact with disease. This has suggested that there will be huge repercussions for South America not only in terms of health care but also in terms of the economy.

Symptoms of the disease:

The effects of the disease can vary massively. Only one in four people bitten by the mosquito develop the disease and the symptoms of the disease can last from two days until a lifetime. Typical symptoms include fever, skin irritation, muscle and joint pain and, sometimes conjunctivitis. However, in worse case scenarios Guillain-Barre syndrome can develop, caused when the immune system attacks some of the nervous system. Guillain-Barre syndrome can even result in paralysis. Moreover, it is beginning to become clear the Zika virus is being linked to Microcephaly, a birth defect where babies are born with small heads due to an undeveloped brain.

Threats to South American health care

It is becoming clear that the Zika virus may have serious implications on health care in South American countries. This is mostly due to the limited knowledge we have about the Zika virus, which means that doctors cannot be sure when the virus leaves the body, how to destroy the virus and how it is transmitted. These uncertainties have led to the fear that the virus could be transmitted in the blood; especially in Brazil where it has been believed that there has been transmission through blood donations. This may effect screening time blood donations, which could result in a delay that for some people may mean that they may not get the donation they need in time. Also, there is a growing fear that Zika could be transmitted sexually, which could have an effect on birth rates. Moreover, the health care systems will have to accommodate for the growing number of children with microcephaly, which is estimated to be about 745 in Brazil. Moreover, it is predicted that doctors will have to look out for the psychological effects of the disease amongst the mothers.

Threat to the Olympics

The 2016 Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil later this year. For most people it will be fine to visit the Olympics as in many cases the symptoms are relatively manageable. However, due to media coverage of the virus, many may be put off going and thus it may seriously affect Brazil’s predicted economic benefits of the Olympics. Moreover, it may threaten some female attendance as it is advised that pregnant women or women who want to get pregnant within six months should not go to countries with the Zika virus. Furthermore, this may effect the attendance of female athletes.

While the Zika virus will not have anywhere close to the same effect as the Ebola virus epidemic of last year on the population, it is a serious cause for concern and acts as a reminder for the need for funding and attention to development of vaccines and treatments for viral diseases. 

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