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Can Zika Virus Spread to Africa?

A relatively new mosquito-borne virus is prompting worldwide concern because of an alarming connection to a neurological birth disorder and the rapid spread of the virus across the globe.

The Zika virus, transmitted by the aggressive Aedes aegypti mosquito, has now spread to at least 25 countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning pregnant women against travel to those areas; health officials in several of those countries are telling female citizens to avoid becoming pregnant, in some cases for up to two years. Here are five important things to know:

1. What is Zika and why is it so serious?

The Zika virus is a flavivirus, part of the same family as yellow fever, West Nile, chikungunya and dengue. But unlike some of those viruses, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika or medicine to treat the infection.

Zika is commanding worldwide attention because of an alarming connection between the virus and microcephaly, a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads. This causes severe developmental issues and sometimes death.

 Since November, Brazil has seen nearly 4,000 cases of microcephaly in babies born to women who were infected with Zika during their pregnancies. To put that in perspective, there were only 146 cases in 2014. So far, 46 babies have died.
A smaller outbreak of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that can lead to life-threatening paralysis, is also linked to Zika in a several countries.

2. How is Zika spread?

The virus is transmitted when an Aedes mosquito bites a person with an active infection and then spreads the virus by biting others. Those people then become carriers during the time they have symptoms. In most people, symptoms of the virus are mild, including fever, headache, rash and possible pink eye. In fact, 80% of those infected never know they have the disease. That’s especially concerning for pregnant women, as this virus has now been shown to pass through amniotic fluid to the growing baby.

In addition, the CDC says there have been documented cases of virus transmission during labor, blood transfusion, laboratory exposure and sexual contact. While Zika has been found in breast milk, it’s not yet confirmed it can be passed to the baby through nursing.

There have been only two documented cases linking Zika to sex.

3. Where is the Zika virus now?

The Zika virus is now being locally transmitted in Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands ,Venezuela and the United States.

4. What can you do to protect yourself against Zika?

With no treatment or vaccine available, the only protection against Zika is to avoid travel to areas with an active infestation. If you do travel to a country where Zika is present, the CDC advises strict adherence to mosquito protection measures: Use an EPA-approved repellent over sunscreen, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts thick enough to block a mosquito bite, and sleep in air-conditioned, screened rooms, among others. If you have Zika, you can prevent spreading it to others by avoiding mosquito bites during the first week of your illness. The female Aedes aegypti, the primary carrier of Zika, is an aggressive biter, preferring daytime to dusk and indoors to outdoors. Keeping screens on windows and doors is critical to preventing entry to homes and hotel rooms. If that’s not possible, sleep under mosquito netting.

5. Can Zika spread to Africa?

At the moment Zika has spread to cape Verde. Since we live in a globalized world and the mosquito vector that spreads Zika is in Africa, Yes, this disease could spread to Africa like it has done in other parts of the world.

So far there is no immediate threat to the African continent but this will only be so as long as the spread is curtailed in other parts of the globe. Lets hope this will be the case as we are not prepared for another disease outbreak on the continent.

 

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