Children of Men: Zika is Now an Ebola-Level Global Emergency
February 3, 2016
Yeah, I know zika virus doesn’t make women infertile, the premise of the movie “Children of Men”. Zika just does terrible things to the infant when women do get pregnant.
It may be exacerbated by climate change, and it is now a global epidemic.
The World Health Organization designated the Zika virus and its suspected complications in newborns as a public health emergency of international concern Monday. The action, which the international body has taken only three times before, paves the way for the mobilization of more funding and manpower to fight the mosquito-born pathogen spreading “explosively” through the Americas.
Zika, first identified more than 50 years ago, has alarmed public health officials in recent months because of its possible association with thousands of suspected cases of brain damage in babies. The WHO has estimated that the virus will reach most of the hemisphere and infect up to 4 million people by year’s end.
According to the latest figures on the epicenter of the outbreak, Brazil has 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly, with 270 confirmed with evidence of an infection.
The WHO declaration represents its highest level of alert and is only invoked in response to the most dire threats. The first time was in 2009 during the H1N1 influenza epidemic that is believed to have infected up to 200 million worldwide; the second in May 2014 when a paralyzing form of polio re-emerged in Pakistan and Syria; and the third in August 2014 with Ebola in West Africa.
The first case of the untreatable Zika virus being transmitted sexually has just been confirmed, NBC reports.
This is the first time the Zika virus has been transmitted in the US. The Zika virus has been detected in at least 31 travelers returning to the US in 11 states and Washington, DC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week on a conference call with reporters, adding that it expected those numbers to rise.
The case happened Dallas County, Texas after the patient had sexual contact with a person with Zika that had just returned from a country where the virus is being locally transmitted.
There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus, though the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases expects early trials of a potential Zika vaccine to start by the end of this year. The virus is mainly transmitted through mosquitoes, though it’s been documented as a potentially sexually transmitted disease as well.
The rapid rise of the Zika virus is turning into a full-on public health crisis. The virus, transferred via specific types of mosquitoes, “is now spreading explosively” across Latin America, according to Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO).
There could be up to 4 million cases right now, just eight months after the first case was reported in Brazil. There are 23 countries where the virus is active.
A number of factors have had to line up for the Zika virus — a disease that’s been associated with birth defects — to spread so far and wide so quickly, but chief among them is heavy rain and heat. Climate change could play a future role in this virus’ — as well as other mosquito-borne illnesses — spread as it creates conditions more favorable to the mosquitoes that transmit it.
Heavy rain and warm temperatures have helped the mosquitoes carrying Zika thrive. There have been heavy rains in southern Brazil and Uruguay this winter (and really for much of the year). Those rains can translate to standing water on the ground, which is crucial mosquito breeding habitat. El Niño has a strong influence on that region and it’s likely playing a role in increased risk of the Zika virus there.
The outbreak initially started in the northeast of the country, however, which usually dries out during El Niño (this year has been no exception). It might seem counterintuitive but drought is also prime time for mosquitoes. There’s a notable link between an uptick in dengue fever — another disease transmitted by mosquitoes that transmit Zika — and drought because of how people store water in the region.