Zika Virus: Symptoms, Side Effects, and Prevention
Almost every year scientists announce the spread of new epidemics, viruses, or illnesses. On hearing such news, people’s hearts sink and panic arises. About two years ago, information about Zika virus was beginning to make headlines. However, Zika wasn’t new; the virus was discovered initially in 1947 and existed for many years without an outbreak.
The question now might be: if Zika virus is so dangerous that the health care system has sounded the alarm, why has it not been studied yet all these decades? The answer is simple: there were few clinical cases of Zika virus in people up until a few years ago. Initially the virus was found in the blood of macaques and it was believed that it affected monkeys alone. However, now we see human patients, not primates, with Zika virus symptoms. So, what is Zika virus?
What Is Zika Virus
Scientists have found that Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus. On hearing that people get infected after a mosquito bites them, they mistakenly assume that there is a specific type of an insect as Zika mosquito. Though it is not so. Zika virus is spread through Aedes aegypti mosquito biting, a certain type of mosquito that is the vector for spreading different pathogen viruses including yellow fever (Flavivirus), dengue fever, and Zika virus. Until 2007 there was no cause for concern, so no one studied this unusual disease that was considered to be typical for macaques. But 2007 was the year of the outbreak. On the island of Yap, a fever was picked up by 73% of the population; in 2013 – 2014, 66% of the inhabitants of French Polynesia were infected by Zika virus. The disease began to spread across the South Pacific until a Zika Virus Map reported signs of Zika virus in 67 countries. The main problem was that even the scientists knew very little about Zika virus.
What, after all, was known about Zika virus?
The fever caused by the Zika virus is successfully healed by the body itself and in most cases, is not even detected; in many cases, the infected person simply does not have any signs of Zika virus. This is probably the main reason why the virus has not been properly studied for a long time. There have been clinical cases but nobody has noticed them, including the patients themselves. The human immune system can successfully cope with the fever during the first case of infection; moreover, it also produces specific cells in the body that protect from other infections caused by the Zika virus. So normally, the answer to the question “Can you die from Zika virus?” is no. There were only 2 lethal outcomes found in 2016, but they were not so much caused by the fever itself, but by the worsening of chronic diseases of the patients.
Latest research of on the Zika virus
A further study of fever illuminates Zika side effects; by the end of 2015, scientists were convinced that the disease could be expressed not only in rash and general malaise, but also in very serious complications, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disease, or microcephaly in newborns. The researchers did not know how the virus moved through the body, what tissues and organs it affected, or how the immune system responded to it. That is why a number of scientists began to study Zika virus symptoms in details to get a clear clinical picture of this disease. One of the research groups published their results in the very highly regarded journal, “Nature.”
According to this research, it was shown that in addition to mosquito biting, the disease is also transmitted sexually, and most often from men to women. Moreover, when infected, sexual organs and the cerebellum serve as reservoirs from where the virus is spread. This confirms that Zika virus causes neurologic complications during pregnancy. With that, the immune system starts to respond to the virus within 24 hours after being infected, the body temperature rises and the number of leukocytes increases. On the seventh day, the specific protective cells that create life-long immunity from Zika virus are produced.
Zika virus vaccine
The fact that our body can successfully protect itself from this disease with repeated infection, suggests the idea of a vaccine. So far, scientists have not been able to develop it, because any, even the most insignificant amount of the virus, causes fever. However, on June 28, 2016, WebMD published some good news about the Zika vaccine: studies involving mice showed the effectiveness of two Zika vaccine candidates. The second step will be a trial on monkeys, while the final one will be helping people in fighting this virus. The intensity of laboratory research gives us hope for a successful solution to this problem.
Zika virus prevention
If you plan to travel outside the USA, first study the Zika Virus Map to make sure you are not going to the countries where cases of the virus were recorded. If there is a risk of Aedes aegypti mosquito biting, always use repellent and wear long-sleeved clothes during the day. This type of mosquito is aggressive during the daytime, mostly in the morning, so make sure you are safely protected during the day. Use door and window screens in the place you stay and get rid of standing water. Any reservoirs with such water become a place for mosquitoes to lay eggs. These simple Zika virus prevention methods will help you stay uninfected. Remember, though, that in most cases the virus remains unnoticed by the majority of infected people, so it is always recommended to get tested for the Zika virus, especially if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy.
Zika virus is only one of many viruses that science initially neglected and then found dangerous. Perhaps now they will pay closer attention to diseases that infect animals, so that no other forgotten virus suddenly becomes a global threat. Meanwhile take care and travel safely!