Over the last two weeks, an outbreak of Zika Virus has spread to dozens of countries in the Americas, and is now suspected of causing serious birth defects.
Before recently, fewer than 1,000 U.S. cases per year were reported of Zika. The virus cannot be cured, but there are treatments to help the symptoms.
Zika, which originated in Brazil, has spread to over 29 countries. It is estimated that three to four million people will be infected with the virus in the next year.
The virus was initially believed to only be spread by the bite of an infected, female, Aedes species mosquito. Unfortunately, officials reported that a person living in Dallas, Texas has been infected with Zika by having sexual intercourse with someone who returned from Venezuela and was carrying the virus.
Symptoms of Zika include rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. Although it is uncommon, the symptoms can become severe enough to require hospitalization.
The real danger of Zika lies with pregnant women as the virus has been linked to a serious lifelong birth defect that forms in utero called microcephaly, which is characterized initially by an abnormally small head.
Babies born with microcephaly do not have brains that are fully developed, so they face serious disabilities. The disease causes seizures, vision and hearing loss, and feeding problems. Those born with microcephaly face developmental delays with walking, standing and sitting. They also have movement and balance issues, decreased ability to learn and function, and many cannot even speak and require around-the-clock care.
More than 4,000 cases were reported in Brazil alone in the past few months, a dramatic increase compared to the 147 cases reported nationally in 2014.
Because of the microcephaly spike, some country officials are advising women to avoid becoming pregnant in some cases for up to two years. The CDC is also advising pregnant woman to avoid sexual contact with and protect themselves against male sexual partners that have traveled to or live in an area where Zika virus is circulating.
Brazil has been hit hardest by the virus, especially with the increasing number of babies born with defects.
“It is so sad to think of all the innocent babies facing these awful lives because of Zika virus,” says sophomore Olivia Minerva.
Many mothers live in precarious homes near standing water and open sewage systems that are fertile grounds for the mosquito that carries the virus.
Brazil, home to the 2016 Summer Olympics staring in April 2016, has been declared unsafe to travel to by the CDC. Since it is such a dangerous area infected with Zika, many athletes have been encouraged not to compete in the games.
Kenya has even considered dropping out of the games because of Zika as athletes do not want to risk getting the disease. Hope Solo, the US star goalkeeper, says that right now she would not risk getting Zika and having an unhealthy baby in order to compete in the Olympics.
Officials are doing their best to calm the hysteria as they promise the situation will be under control in time for the games.
“Crazy to think that someone trained their whole life and then they cannot even compete because of a mosquito that can ruin lives,” says sophomore Jules Pascal.
What do you think of Zika virus?