Health experts and organizations around the world have admitted they know very little about the Zika virus, even though it was first discovered almost 60 years ago. Some experts are linking the concerning spread of the virus today with climate change and the El Niño phenomenon.
However, an Indian pharmaceutical firm claimed Wednesday to have developed the world’s first vaccine against mosquito-borne Zika.
"On Zika, we were probably the first vaccine company in the world to file a vaccine candidate patent about nine months ago," Krishna Ella, chairperson and of Bharat Biotech Ltd told NDTV.
The WHO recently warned that this year about 4 million cases of Zika will affect the Americas.
Germany recently claimed it developed the first test to determine if somebody has the virus.
In the meantime, here are eight facts you may not know about the virus.
1. What is Zika?
The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne illness that was first discovered in 1947. Named after the Zika forest in Uganda where it was discovered.
It is largely transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes but can also be spread through sexual and blood contact, including transfusions though this is very rare.
So far there has been three cases of sexual transmission—the first one being in 2008 when a doctor returned to Colorado from Senegal and passed it to his wife.
According to NPR, the doctor had detected blood in his semen prior to having sexual intercourse with his wife.
While the virus isn’t anything new, this is the largest outbreak of the it in recorded history.
2. What are the symptoms?
The symptoms, which are typically mild, include low-grade fever, rash (flat with small red bumps), joint pain, headache, muscle pain, and conjunctivitis. Due to the symptoms, Zika is often misdiagnosed as dengue fever, another mosquito-borne illness, according to the World Health Organization.
3. Is there a cure?
There is no cure, vaccine or treatment for Zika virus. Most medicines are aimed at treating the symptoms not the actual disease.
Mosquito control including bug sprays, nets, water treatments, and the removal of standing water is, for the time being, the best way to combat the virus. Also, avoiding unprotected sexual contact with someone who may have been exposed.
4. Who is at greatest risk?
Pregnant women. Nothing is conclusive yet, but Brazil and international health experts are analyzing the link between babies born with microcephaly and the fact their mothers were apparently infected with the virus during pregnancy. Also, some patients seem to have developed the Guillain Barre Syndrome or GBS, a neurological disorder that causes the immune system to attack the nervous system, leading to muscle disorders and even paralysis, according to the WHO.
5. Where has Zika been detected?
Cases have already been confirmed in at least 24 countries. Pan American Health Organization warned the Zika will spread to the 33 countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region, and southern parts of the United States. The WHO also warned Zika is “spreading explosively,” and has called it a public health emergency of international proportions. Brazil is the epicenter of the outbreak. At least 3,700 cases of microcephaly have been reported. In Colombia, at least 2,000 pregnant women have been diagnosed with Zika. In total, there are at least 20,000 cases there.
This Wednesday, five cases were reported in Germany in people who had recently been to Latin America. In the United States, cases have now been detected as far as Georgia
6. What is the response for far?
Caribbean and Central America are responding to the outbreak, encouraging women not to get pregnant (also sparking debate considering abortion rules).
A regional meeting was held today in Uruguay to discuss how to respond to the crisis.
Possible solutions have included using nuclear radiation to zap sperm of male mosquitoes, combined with other strategies to stem the spread of the virus
7. What is the cause?
The Zika virus is connected to climate change. As global temperatures rise and there are changes in precipitation patterns, there are more environments where mosquitos that carry the virus to survive.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control just released this map showing the countries that have detected Zika. They obviously failed to include the United States and Germany. | Source: CDC