Zika: The Black Plague 2.0

By Maddie Cowan and Naomi Vanderley

Recently, the World Health Organization alerted the citizens of Earth over the Zika virus saying that this pandemic was “spreading explosively” in the Americas and that as many as four million people could be infected by the end of the year. Many still have not heard about this widespread disease though it is rapidly spreading throughout numerous countries and has even been reported to have spread to the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Zika is a virus which is transmitted to people primarily via mosquito bites. The general symptoms of Zika virus disease include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, which causes red, itchy eyes. This disease is typically mild with symptoms only lasting from around several days to a week. Many do not show any symptoms at all. Severe disease requiring hospitalization does not often occur.

In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil. However, in the past couple weeks, severe outbreaks of Zika virus have broken out in not only Brazil but also numerous other Latin American nations, and a couple cases have even been reported in Texas. The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes.

Pregnant women likely infected with Zika have been giving birth to infants with a terrible birth defect called microcephaly, which is characterized by a shrunken head and incomplete brain development. The Zika virus has also been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a syndrome which often begins with tingling and weakness starting in your feet and legs and spreading to your upper body and arms. In about 10 percent of people with the disorder, symptoms begin in the arms or face. As Guillain-Barre syndrome progresses, muscle weakness can evolve into paralysis according to the Mayo Clinic.

According to the New York Times, the World Health Organization has predicted over four million people may be infected with the Zika virus by the end of the year. “The level of alarm is extremely high,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the W.H.O. The global health agency is convening a special meeting of numerous nations in order to decide whether to declare a public health emergency. Many world health officials believe the key to containing such a dangerous outbreak is moving swiftly to combat this pandemic so as to not mirror the action taken against the last major global health crisis, Ebola, which was allowed to fester without a coordinated, effective strategy.

Some nations, El Salvador for example, have suggested women avoid getting pregnant until 2018 out of concern for the Zika virus rampaging through Latin America. Zika virus can cause serious birth defects, a fact that has led several Latin American countries to ask local women to hold off on getting pregnant until the outbreak is under control, a rather controversial proposed solution.

“You can’t keep people from having babies and getting pregnant. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. If a woman having a baby is part of God’s will, that really isn’t something you should try to stop,” said library assistant Stephanie Lopez.

Recently, President Obama, in efforts to fight the outbreak of the Zika virus, has requested $1.8 billion in emergency funding. The money would be put towards mosquito prevention programs, research into vaccines, and public education programs especially for pregnant women.

The Zika virus has exploded into worldwide society so quickly, even those who seemingly should be aware of Zika still have not ever heard of it. When asked if he knew anything of the Zika virus, Catholic High biology teacher Mr. Patrick Cavallario confessed he did not.

Awareness of the  Zika virus must be raised if transmission is to be prevented and the disease is to be contained.

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