Zika virus more dangerous than previously thought

For months now, the Zika Virus has been a topic of public interest and concern.

The Zika virus originated in the Zika forest, when scientists researching yellow fever placed a monkey in a cage in the forest. The monkey caught a fever that was later revealed to be the Zika virus.

Various cases of Zika virus were reported in Africa and Southeast Asia but they were rare.

In 2007, a major epidemic happened on Yap Island, Micronesia. In the following years, more epidemics occurred in Polynesia, Easter Island, the Cook Islands and New Caledonia.

These cases were initially thought to be dengue fever as the symptoms are similar. However, when serum samples were taken from patients, it was confirmed to contain RNA of Zika virus.

The most recent, largest and most publicized outbreak happened in in April 2015 in Brazil. Healthcare authorities found that what had previously been an unknown disease was confirmed to be an ongoing outbreak of Zika fever.

This outbreak, at the time, affected about 500 patients with flu-like symptoms, followed by rash and joint pain. However, it has since been discovered that not all those infected show symptoms–which could mean the outbreak was larger than originally thought.

The outbreak is thought to have been caused by the recent rise in foreign visitors due to the 2014 FIFA World Cup as well as the large population of mosquito species that carry the disease that live in the region.

The illness is spread by a bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Studies suggest the disease can also be sexually transmitted.

The World Health Organization (WHO)  says symptoms include mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis (red eyes), muscle and joint pain, malaise or headaches.

The symptoms usually last from two to seven days.

However, not all who have the virus may show these symptoms. It is estimated that about one in four people infected with Zika virus will develop symptoms.

Currently, there is no treatment or vaccine available.

Like chicken pox, once people are infected with Zika virus, they are unlikely to become infected again.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is not the only large event held in Brazil. With the 2016 Summer Olympics on the horizon, the risk of contracting the virus is now a problem for those attending.

Major league baseball teams have already cancelled their appearances in Brazil because of the outbreak.

But, with so much money funnelled into the making of the Olympic games, as well as the amount of time and effort it would take to move the games with so little time left, it is highly unlikely the Olympics will be moved.

For those who travel to Zika-affected areas, precautions should be taken.

Covering up with long sleeves, long pants and covered shoes is advised as well as utilizing insect repellant on any and all areas of exposed skin.

One should also book accommodations in a fully enclosed area not exposed to the outdoors, or if one is sleeping outdoors (or even if the area they are sleeping in is not fully enclosed), to sleep under a bug net.

After returning from a Zika-affected country, men should use condoms for six months upon their return or abstain from sex entirely.

Women should abstain from sex as well for at least two months.

Even though attending the Olympics may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the risk is too great for pregnant attendees.

While the virus does not usually have dangerous effects, it is not the same with pregnant women.  Becoming infected with the virus while pregnant can cause a birth defect in newborn babies called microcephaly, also known as small head syndrome.

Still, the problem does not only affect those who travel to Zika-affected areas. As with the 2014 FIFA World Cup, those who have the virus may pass it on when they return to their homes or travel to other places.