Infections with Zika virus are becoming more prevalent all over the Americas, and although the virus is usually not life-threatening it has been linked to increases in birth defects in French Polynesia and in Brazil, according to health officials.
The first locally acquired Zika virus was announced December 10 by officials in Panama, raising the number of countries in Central and South America that have reported Zika virus infections to a total of ten.
An alert about the virus has been issued by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on December 1. At that time, cases of the Zika virus were reported in Colombia, Chile (on Easter Island), Mexico, Brazil, El Salvador, Suriname, Guatemala, Venezuela, and Paraguay.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms of Zika infection include joint pain, fever, and rash. They usually appear three days to one week after the person is bitten by an infected mosquito, and can last about seven days on average. There is no vaccine for Zika at the moment.
The infection is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, a genus of mosquitoes found on all continents except Antarctica. The two main carriers of Zika are Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti.
This year in Brazil, there was a rise in cases of microcephaly – a congenital condition in which the brain and head are underdeveloped – especially in the regions that were most affected by the Zika virus, the Pan American Health Organization reported.
Newborns’ amniotic fluid had traces of the virus, confirming the link between the virus and the birth defect, according to health officials. Since October, there have been 1,248 cases of microcephaly reported in 14 of Brazil’s 26 states, including seven deaths.
Lesions and brain defects in foetuses, which are linked to the Zika virus outbreak, have also been reported in French Polynesia. The Pan American Health Organization stated that although the mothers had no symptoms of the virus, they were most likely carriers (based on test results).
Pregnant women in the affected areas should be extremely cautions especially during the first trimester of the pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also advises pregnant women visiting countries in Central and South America, to use mosquito repellents and nets, and cover exposed skin especially during the day.
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