Zika Virus – Origins and History
What is the origin of the Zika Virus, Where did the Virus come from?
Why is Zika called Zika, what is the origin of the name?
Zika means “Overgrown” in the Luganda language, spoken in Uganda. Since the virus was discovered in monkeys living in the Zika Forest, the virus is called the Zika Virus.
When was the Zika Virus Discovered?
The Zika Virus was originally discovered in Uganda in 1947, but cases were rare until an epidemic in 2007, in Yap, Micronesia. During this 2007 outbreak, two diseases, the Dengue virus, and Chikungunya virus were the suspected virus culprits. Later, blood tests revealed and confirmed it was actually the Zika virus that caused the outbreak. In Yap, Micronesia, there were 49 confirmed cases and 59 unconfirmed cases. According to this WHO document, it was estimated that about 73% of the island’s residents over the age of three were infected. It should be noted that the illness resulting from the infections was mild and there was no reported hospitalizations or death for this 2007 outbreak.
How does the Zika Virus operate?
What is the Zika Virus? The Zika Virus is a flavivirus, in the same family as yellow fever, Dengue, and West Nile viruses. Zika operates similarly to other viruses. The Zika virus enters its host, in this case, humans, monkeys or mosquitoes. It uses cells from the host to reproduce until the host’s immune system fights off the virus. While the person infected with Zika is fighting off the virus, they may feel the effects of illness caused by the virus.
ONLY 1 in 5 people infected with the virus develop symptoms. The other 4 remain symptom and illness free.
Why is the Zika Virus Dangerous?
A large percentage of people infected with the virus will have no symptoms, and those that do have symptoms usually experience a mild to moderate illness that lasts a short time.
However, the virus may not be as harmless as researchers originally thought. During the 2013-2014 outbreak in French Polynesia showed a possible link between the Zika virus and congenital malformations, neurological complications, and autoimmune complications.
Toward the end of 2013, a rise in reported cases of Guillain-Barré was associated with the Zika Virus.
A Devastating Result From The Zika Virus
The most astonishing evidence of the danger posed by the Zika Virus was found in 2015. In 2015 Brazil reported the results of a review of 138 persons affected with neurological symptoms between March and August. Of the 138 individuals reviewed, 58 had a history of viral infection and 32 had symptoms that pointed to Zika or Dengue pointing to a possible causal relationship between Zika and neurological conditions, such as Microcephaly.
Pregnant Mothers Infected Pass on a Tragedy
Microcephaly: Microcephaly is a condition which causes a baby to be born with a smaller than normal head, with possible brain deformations and other neurological problems. Microcephaly can cause learning disabilities, blindness and deafness.
Microcephaly is a rare condition and several clustered cases of Microcephaly in Brazil show data that leads to a possible association between the deformity and the Zika virus.
What the Zika Virus Looks Like
The image below shows the Zika Virus in orange. The image is from the NIAID and is from the Fortaleza strain of the Zika virus. This virus was isolated from a Microcephaly case in Brazil.
How Zika Virus Attacks and Infects Cells
The Zika Virus operates in a similar way that other viruses work. The Zika virus enters the host body and ‘tricks’ the cells of the host into allowing the virus to enter. From there, the virus transmits its own RNA inside the cell and causes the host cell to replicate the virus and release new copies of the virus into the body.
Signs, Symptoms, Virus Progression and Transmission
How is the Zika Virus Transmitted?
The Zika virus is most often spread by a mosquito bite. The Aedes mosquito is the specific type of mosquito that spreads the Zika Virus. When the Aedes mosquito bites someone who already has the Zika virus in their blood, the mosquito gets infected with the virus.
When the infected mosquito bites someone who does not have the virus, the virus passes from the mosquito to the uninfected person, transmitting the virus. The mosquito can bite many people and transmit the virus multiple times.
Recently scientists have discovered that a mosquito bite is not the only way the Zika virus is spread. The Zika virus has been identified in semen. Some researchers believe an infected individual can pass on the Zika virus to a partner during sex.
There was also one case in Utah where an elderly man was infected with Zika during his travels and returned home where he evidently infected a ‘family contact’, whom he had no sexual relationship with. This opens the door to the possibility that Zika has several routes of transmission in addition to mosquito bites, but more study is needed.
How Long does Illness from the Zika Virus Last?
Only one person out of five people infected will develop an illness from the Zika virus.
For that one unlucky person, the virus will incubate for a few days while the person has no symptoms. Once the person begins to show symptoms, they can expect the symptoms of the illness to stick around for 2 to 7 days.
How long can an Infected Person Spread the Zika Virus?
According to Columbia University Professor Stephen Morse, “The virus can probably only persist for a limited time. Maybe a few weeks to a couple months from what we’ve seen.”5
Most doctors agree that the body’s immune system clears the virus from the body after a short time. There have been reports of the virus being detected in certain body fluids for as long as 6 months, so the time frame can be very individual. This is one aspect of the virus that researchers are still studying.
Signs and Symptoms of the Zika Virus
The signs and symptoms of illness from the Zika virus are similar to other illnesses which make the virus hard to identify. It is generally a mild, flu-like illness.
Mild Fever or low-grade fever.
Skin rash – Zika can cause a maculopapular rash that starts at the head and spreads down the neck back and arms. The rash will last about a week if it develops. Not all who are infected get a rash. The rash may itch and may also reach the palms and soles of the feet.
Fatigue – the infected person may feel tired and suffer lethargy.
Conjunctivitis- red or bloodshot eyes. Sufferers may feel eye irritation.
Muscle and Joint Pain- knees, wrists and ankles can be affected and can hurt for a week.
Nausea and vomiting- some may experience nausea and vomiting from the illness.
Headache – this is often the first symptom
NO Symptoms. 4 out of 5 people infected will not develop illness
Is Zika Virus Sexually Transmitted?
Some experts believe that yes, it is possible to transmit Zika sexually. A scientist working in Senegal contracted Zika, returned to the US and gave the Zika Virus to his wife.6 While scientists believe it is rare to transmit the virus this way, it is a possibility.
Is Zika Virus Deadly?
While there is neither cure nor vaccine available for the Zika virus yet, the illness is not likely to be lethal.
However, there has been a total of 9 cases where the Zika Virus was implicated in a bleeding disorder called Immune thrombocytopenic purpura aka ITP. Some of those who get ITP because of Zika do die from it. While rare, Zika can cause complications that result in death.
Is Zika Virus Contagious?
The vast majority of cases where people fall ill from Zika are due to a mosquito bite.
Person to person transmission is not common, but it has happened in at least one case. Sexual transmission is also thought possible, but more research is needed to confirm how common this mode of transmission is.
If you get Zika, are you immune to it afterward?
Many scientists believe that humans are likely to be immune to the virus after having it once. While this statement has not been proven via scientific study, scientists have studied immunity in monkeys. Eight rhesus macaque primates were injected with the Zika virus and showed viral replication in their body fluids.
The monkeys developed antibodies to the virus 21 days after being infected. The scientists waited another 10 weeks and injected the virus into the monkeys again. This time, the monkeys showed no virus replication in their body fluids, indicating that they were now immune to the virus.
How Zika Virus affects specific people and populations
How the Zika Virus affects Pregnant Woman?
Pregnant women are especially at risk from the Zika Virus because of the effect the virus can have on their unborn baby. Even if the woman herself has no symptoms the child has a chance of being born with Microcephaly or other brain defects.
What is Microcephaly?
Microcephaly is a condition children are either born with or acquire shortly after birth. Babies born with Microcephaly have smaller than normal heads, and it’s possible that their brain is not properly developed.
Women who catch the Zika Virus while pregnant have an increased risk of having a baby with Microcephaly or other neurological disorders.
Fact: According to the Centers for Disease Control scientists do not know what percentage of mothers infected with the Zika Virus during their pregnancy will have babies with Microcephaly.
What other Birth Defects does the Zika Virus cause?
According to the CDC, Congenital Zika syndrome is caused by the Zika Virus. This syndrome is actually a cluster of defects doctors identify in babies whose mothers were infected with the virus during pregnancy. The collection of possible defects that make up Congenital Zika Syndrome include:
Limited motion of joints
Note: Not all babies who have mothers who contract the Zika Virus while pregnant will suffer from these symptoms, estimates range from 5 to 15 percent, based on recent data.
Why does the Zika Virus hurt Unborn Babies to such a degree?
Unborn babies are especially susceptible to the Zika virus because the Zika Virus targets neural progenitor cells and neuronal cells. Because the babies entire neuronal system is developing while in the womb, a virus that attacks this system could be devastating.
Does the Zika Virus affect Future Pregnancies?
Scientists theorize that once a person is infected with Zika, the virus will clear from their system, and they will be immune to the virus. The CDC says that being infected with the Zika virus should not affect future pregnancies.
How Does Zika Virus Affect Newborns?
Infants that are infected with the Zika Virus after they are born, have symptoms similar to children and adults who acquire the Virus. They may have no symptoms at all or may have the flu-like symptoms associated with the Viruses illness. The CDC notes that there is not enough data on newborns that are infected after birth, known as postnatal transmission. The CDC says that newborns that contract the virus should be given routine pediatric care.
How does the Zika Virus Cause Microcephaly?
Researchers recently discovered that Microcephaly is caused primarily by the Asian strain of the Zika Virus. They hypothesize that the Asian strain of the Zika Virus affects the development, survival, and maturation of brain stem cells.
Stem Cells: Stem cells are special cells in the body that have the ability to develop into other types of cells.
The study, published in February 2017 stated that researchers discovered the Asian strain of the Zika Virus stopped the proliferation of brain stem cells, preventing them from turning into brain nerve cells.
The researchers also discovered that brain stem cells from different donors reacted in different ways, and more research needs to be done to discover why there is a difference between donors.
What are Other Possible Causes of Microcephaly?
Microcephaly has other causes, besides the Zika Virus. Possible causes include:
Premature fusing of the bones in the infant’s skull
Genetic abnormalities, such as those that cause down syndrome
Lack of oxygen reaching the developing fetus brain
Other infections such as German measles, cytomegalovirus, chickenpox and toxoplasmosis
Drugs, alcohol and other toxins used by the pregnant mother
Malnutrition of the mother
A mother with uncontrolled phenylketonuria, aka PKU, or the inability to break down an amino acid called phenylalanine
How Does Zika Virus Affect Toddlers
Many toddlers who are infected with the Zika Virus do not show any symptoms. Those toddlers who do show signs of illness, show the typical symptoms of a Zika Virus sufferer. The CDC conducted a study12 of 158 children who contracted the virus while traveling and found no fatal outcomes and only two hospitalizations from the group of 158. It appears toddlers have the same risk as adults when it comes to the Zika Virus.
How Does Zika Virus affect Non-Pregnant Adults?
Those who are not pregnant have a one in 5 chance of showing Zika related symptoms. Adults have a small chance of developing the Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Guillain-Barré syndrome: It is rare to get Guillain-Barré syndrome from the Zika Virus, but there have been reported cases. Guillain-Barré syndrome is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks healthy nerve cells in the sufferer’s body. Guillain-Barré syndrome can cause weakness, numbness, tingling and even paralysis. Most who develop Guillain-Barré syndrome recover, but it can take anywhere from many weeks to a few years to fully recover.
How Does Zika Virus Affect Males?
Males are affected the same way any non-pregnant adult is affected. Males need to be aware that the virus can live in body fluids, including semen, and it is possible to pass the virus to someone else if they are infected. The CDC notes that the virus hangs around longer in semen than it does in blood or urine. Males who are infected should avoid sex with any woman who is or may become pregnant.
Do you carry the Zika Virus for Life?
Scientists believe that the body clears the virus from your system after a few weeks, but that your body develops immunity to the virus.
How long do couples need to wait before trying to conceive?
The CDC recommends that men who were exposed to the virus wait 6 months before they try and conceive. Women are recommended to wait 8 weeks from the time of exposure before they try and conceive.
Can Zika Virus Treat Brain Cancer?
Researchers from The University of Cambridge14 were awarded a research grant to study the effects of the Zika virus on a specific and aggressive type of brain cancer.
Glioblastoma is a frequently deadly and very hard to treat cancer that involves cells similar to the developing stem cells in the brains of unborn babies. The Zika virus is devastating for some unborn babies but is not thought to be harmful to adult brains.
Because the Zika virus attacks brain stem cells and hinders their growth, researchers are hoping that the Zika virus may also slow the growth of this specific cancer.
Prevention, Cure Treatment and Vaccines
How to prevent or avoid the Zika Virus
The Zika Virus is primarily spread by the Aedes mosquitoes. The best way to prevent or avoid contracting the Zika virus is to avoid being bitten by a mosquito that carries the virus. One way to avoid being bitten by a carrier mosquito is to stay away from places the virus has been reported to be.
Remember, Zika is usually a mild illness, but rarely, more severe complications develop. Women who are pregnant, are trying to become pregnant or may become pregnant need to take the greatest precaution, because of the risk the Zika Virus poses to unborn babies.
If you live in an area where the Zika virus exists, or you are traveling to the area where Zika exists, you need to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites. Some precautions you can take to avoid mosquito bites:
Use clothing that covers the arms and legs.
Use an insect repellant containing DEET while outdoors
Avoid spending time outdoors near dusk or dawn, when mosquitoes are most likely to bite.
Keep feet covered. The Aedes mosquito frequently bites near or on the foot.
Eliminate any and all standing water near your home. Mosquitoes only need a tiny amount of stagnant water to breed.
If you absolutely can not risk infection, such as pregnant women, do not travel to areas where Zika is present.
Is there a remedy or cure for the Zika Virus?
There is no cure, remedy or vaccine against the Zika virus. The good news is that your immune system can fight the virus and most people will be free from symptoms in about a week.
The illness only manifests for one in every five people infected and if a person becomes ill they can expect the symptoms to be about as severe as having the flu. It is not pleasant, but the illness is usually not severe, and very rarely fatal. This excludes unborn babies, who can be greatly damaged if they contract the virus.
What is the treatment for someone infected with the Zika Virus?
Treatment for illness from the Zika Virus generally revolves around alleviating symptoms until the immune system clears the virus.
If you experience aching joints or muscles you can take Tylenol, but the CDC warns against using other pain relievers such as aspirin or any NSAIDS because your Doctor needs to confirm the illness is actually due to Zika, and not another virus. The confirmation of Zika is important, because other viruses, such as Dengue, can cause bleeding and aspirin or other NSAIDS are contradicted.
Many people who become ill with the Zika Virus get a rash. The rash can be on the face, back, arms and even the palms of the hand or soles of the feet. Several sufferers report using natural remedies to relieve the itching and burning sensation. Home remedies may include a baking soda soak, oatmeal soak or calamine lotion (the pink lotion many associate with chicken pox).
Treatment recommendations also include getting plenty of rest and drinking ample amounts of water.
How do I take care of someone with the Zika Virus?
If you are caring for someone infected with the virus, the likelihood of you contracting Zika are low, but you still must take precautions.
Do not touch blood or body fluids with exposed hands. Wash your hands after treating the person infected with the virus and promptly clean any blood or fluids.
If you are administering eye drops, use gloves. If you need to touch any body fluid for any reason, you should wear gloves. Person to person transmission is uncommon, but cases have been reported. Fluid from the eyes, mouth, blood, urine or any other body fluid may spread the Zika Virus.
Zika Virus testing and Vaccines
If you suspect you or a loved one has contracted the Zika virus, see your health care, provider. There are urine and blood tests that can confirm infection.
If you are pregnant it is especially important to see your doctor, even if you are feeling better. The Zika Virus can severely affect unborn babies, so you want to be tested if you suspect the virus is behind your illness.
As of July 2017, there is no vaccine available to the public for the Zika Virus, but a vaccine15is currently in Phase 2 Clinical trials, and if found effective may be available in the future.
Zika Virus Vs Other Diseases and Various Compounds
Zika Virus vs. Chikungunya vs. Dengue
Illness caused by the Zika Virus, Dengue Virus, and the Chikungunya Virus share some similarities. All are transmitted primarily by mosquitoes and have similar symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain, and headache.
The differences are subtle.
Zika Virus can produce red eyes or conjunctivitis. The fever and joint pain with the Zika Virus is described as mild.
Dengue fever generally involves a high fever, severe headache, and pain behind the eyes and caused a low white blood cell count.
Chikungunya is well known for the severe joint pain it causes, in fact, the name is thought to mean “to become contorted” or “that which bends up” referring to the sufferers who sometimes walk with backs bent.
Locations Where Zika Virus has been Detected
According to the CDC Zika has been found in the continental US, in the states of Florida and Texas. If you live in these areas or plan to visit, you should visit the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html to get more specific information.
If you are traveling, the CDC has an interactive map and publishes advisories for specific countries and local areas and you should reference the website to see if there are any warnings for your intended destination and to assess travelers Zika risk.
Countries and locations where Zika has been most prominent include Brazil, Columbia, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Caribbean, Thailand, Aruba, Belize, Panama, St Barts, St Martin, Costa Rica, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
Is Zika Virus a public health threat or emergency today?
The World Health Organization, or WHO, declared in November 201616 the end of the Public health Emergency for the Zika Virus.
This does not mean that the Zika virus is no longer a threat.
The WHO Emergency Committee says the Zika Virus continues to be a health challenge because viruses and disease classified as an Emergency require urgent and coordinated research.
Because Zika has been extensively researched, and transmission and control measures have been put in place, the presence of the virus can no longer be classified as an emergency but is instead classified as a public health challenge.
Is the Zika Virus a hoax?
There are websites, blogs, and YouTube Videos which claim the Zika Virus is some sort of hoax, cooked up by pesticide companies to cover up damage caused by the chemicals found in these products.
The published scientific data do not point to a hoax, but instead, confirm the link between Microcephaly and the Zika Virus are real. Scientists17 from John Hopkins University, Florida State, and Emory collaborated on research that showed how the Zika Virus affects developing brain stem cells.
This study, along with many like it conducted recently give solid evidence that the Zika Virus can have a devastating effect on unborn children and that there is a clear link between the Zika Virus and Microcephaly.
According to a WHO situation, report18 28 countries have reported CNS malformations, including Microcephaly that they attribute to the Zika Virus.
With all this evidence, it is hard to see why some believe that the Zika Virus is a hoax.
Is the Zika Virus still a threat in 2017?
While the World Health Organization has reclassified the Zika Virus from Emergency to Public health challenge, Zika infections are still a threat in areas where it has not spread.
Zika is still moving into new areas and has the potential to harm unborn babies wherever it hits. The CDC issued a report19 in April of 2017 that showed women in the US who had Zika during pregnancy had a 5 to 15 percent chance of having a baby with some kind of Zika related birth defect, including Microcephaly.
WHO advises citizens living in affected areas who are in their childbearing years stay informed and consider waiting to become pregnant.
It seems clear, based on the most recent data, that Zika is still a public health threat in 2017, and will remain so for years to come.