On the Surface
The Zika virus is sweeping through the Americas, and has been observed in countries as far away as Denmark and Sweden. Governments around the world must take action to stop the spread of this disease.
The Zika virus has been observed along the equatorial belt in Asia and Africa since the 1950s, but it has recently reached pandemic levels in 21 countries across Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. Zika is closely related to Dengue Fever, and is spread by mosquitos (distribution of Zika-carrying species is illustrated in the map above). According to the WHO, it is expected to spread throughout the Americas (including into the United States) in a matter of months.
Symptoms and Treatment
Most of the time, Zika presents with no observable symptoms, but Zika can cause rash and fever. There is evidence that the Zika virus causes microcephaly and brain damage in the fetuses of infected pregnant women (Brazil, where one million people have been infected, has advised women to avoid pregnancy).
Currently, there is no cure for Zika. It can only be treated with supportive care (that is, only the symptoms can be treated).
Preventing the spread of the Zika virus necessitates a four-pronged approach.
First, governments need to prevent travel to countries where Zika cases have been reported. To that end, better tracking of Zika is needed so that governments can know where outbreaks are likely to occur.
Second, the public must be educated about the Zika virus and about preventing mosquito bites. One reason that Brazil has been so affected by Zika is the lack of public awareness: Brazil has recently deployed its military to educate the public about the virus.
Third, mosquito control programs must be implemented. This can involve a variety of tactics: putting larvicide into certain bodies of water, elimination of mosquito breeding sites in areas with poor sanitation, and using genetically modified Aedes Aegypti mosquitos to, essentially, sterilize mosquito populations (from the source: “When modified males breed with wild females, the offspring inherit a lethal gene and die in the larval stage”).
Finally, governments around the world need to strengthen research efforts into a vaccine and curative treatment. Without knowing Zika’s exact symptoms, its transmission (there is some evidence that Zika can be transmitted sexually), or the most effective way to tret it, doctors around the world essentially have their hands tied.
The Zika virus will continue to spread across the Americas absent immediate action. Approaches, both preventive and curative, are necessary.