Zika: A Crash Course

Argie Dabrowski, Contributing Writer

Recently, there has been a major spike in Zika cases throughout South America, leaving medical experts baffled as to how it suddenly began. Beginning in Brazil, this epidemic has slowly made its way throughout the Americas, especially with the arrival of spring and warm weather, so it is important to know the facts and understand the basics of the virus in order for it to be stopped in the future.

While Zika is not fatal to non-vulnerable individuals, it is still a huge epidemic. Symptoms include, according to the Center for Disease Control, red-eye, fever, rash, and joint pain. The virus is similar to the flu in how it affects people, but the way it is spread is entirely different. Zika is spread by the Aedes mosquito, the same type that causes the spread of yellow fever and West Nile virus. The female mosquitos, which need blood in order to lay eggs, pick up the virus from an infected person and carry it in their salivary glands. When a mosquito bites the next person, it first sends saliva(now infected with Zika) into the person to stop blood clotting as it feeds, spreading the virus further. There is good news, though: like Chicken Pox, once a person has had Zika and recovers, it is thought that they cannot be infected again.

Another concern with the Zika virus is its connection to causing birth defects in babies, mainly microcephaly. Microcephaly means “small head” in Greek and is exactly that; babies with this condition are born with smaller heads, which hinders brain development and limits cognitives abilities. Since the eruption of Zika, the rate of infants born with microcephaly has risen from 1 in 5,000 to 1 in 100 in Brazil. This shows a clear connection to Zika, as almost all mothers infected with the virus during pregnancy gave birth to babies with microcephaly. There is a theory, though, that this rise in microcephaly-affected births is caused by the rise in usage of certain pesticides to keep away the mosquitos causing Zika. This belief is, however, unfounded, as this specific pesticide was in use long before Zika and the increase in microcephaly.

The CDC predicts that Zika is not likely to become an epidemic in northeastern states, only reaching about Delaware, but there has been one confirmed case in Connecticut. There have only been 193 cases of Zika reported in the United States, all of which were contracted overseas. Of these 193, only 2 have been recorded in New Jersey. To prevent Zika from spreading any further, certain precautions must be taken, such as wearing insect repellant and sleeping in mosquito nets when in especially-affected areas. Zika can be avoided and prevented if we all take caution and work together to stop it from spreading any further.