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In 2015, an outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil is suspected to have caused cases of a birth defect, microcephaly, and Guillian-Barre syndrome.
On Feb. 9, the Tennessee Department of Health announced that first case of Zika virus was reported in Tennessee. The individual had just returned from travelling to South America before coming back to East Tennessee.
With many students currently planning to either spend spring break in that area or are traveling for other reasons, it is important to know more about Zika virus.
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that is getting spread across the Americas with new symptoms that have not been seen from the virus before.
The virus was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda. The virus was isolated from humans in 1954 and the infections in Africa and Southeast Asia have been rare. Since then, cases of the virus have started to show in Brazil and other South American countries.
“It’s an African virus that has recently started spreading to other parts of the world so now we have it in the Western Hemisphere. It’s potentially causing some new symptoms that we have not seen in the past,” Justin Anderson, associate professor of biology, said.
Since Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus, the most obvious way to avoid getting it is to avoid mosquitos. The difference between this virus and others like the West Nile virus is that the mosquitos that spread Zika are day active and bite during the day. The others are usually night active that spread the West Nile virus.
The most common symptoms for the disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other symptoms are headaches and muscle pain. The illness usually only lasts for about a week before clearing up.
For the most part, the virus is mild where people do not usually feel sick enough to go to the hospital or die from it. The disease is most serious when someone is pregnant.
“You know there’s a link right now that suggests that these cases of microcephaly, which basically means underdevelopment of the brain, are linked to infections of the Zika virus,” Anderson said. “We don’t know for sure yet and that’s not really an easy one to test because you can’t just go infect pregnant people with Zika virus and see what happens to their kids.”
Right now, there is not vaccine to prevent the infection of this virus. Scientists know the best ways to treat the symptoms: Get plenty of rest and drink lots of liquids.
There has been reported case of the virus being spread through sexual intercourse, but only a few instances of that happening. Anderson stated that it was mostly spread through mosquitos.
“When you get infected with the virus it replicates inside of you, so it makes a lot more virus that circulates in your bloodstream and then mosquitos that bite you can pick it up. Then they sort of do the same thing. It replicates in the mosquito. They get to the certain point that when they bite somebody else they spit the virus out so it infects the next person,” he said.
The potential of someone picking up the virus and bringing it back to the U.S. is high, but the potential of an outbreak in the U.S. is not as high – though it is always possible.