Zika virus takes front and center this week as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has issued a travel alert "urging pregnant women not visit Brazil and about a dozen other countries in the region where mosquitoes have spread the Zika virus.” As of Friday the list of countries includes “ Brazil and 13 other countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean: Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. This is especially unfortunate since Brazil will be the site of the summer Olympics this August.
Zika virus is spread by mosquitos. Women who are infected by it have symptoms such as fever, rash, muscle aches and pink eye. If they are pregnant, their unborn babies are at high risk to be infected and born with microcephaly, a condition where they are born with abnormally small heads, small brains, and often a short lifespan. Women who have been infected by Zika virus cannot spread it to other women since it is spread by mosquitoes.
Concern has been raised about an association between Zika infection and post viral Guillaine Barre Syndrome. This is a post viral paralysis that is usually self limited. Researchers in Brazil have noticed a significant uptick in the incidence of this syndrome and estimate that the Zika infection raises the odds of getting Guillaine Barre about 20 fold.
El Salvador has been hard hit with this virus, documenting nearly 5400 cases so far in 2015. Pregnant women have been advised to remain fully covered to avoid getting bitten. Imagine the apprehension that is going to develop over this. Salvadoran authorities have also advised women to refrain from getting pregnant for the next two years.
So far pregnancy, travel and clothing restrictions are some of the only measures I have heard of to prevent spread. Additionally, genetically modified mosquitos are being produced to reduce the mosquito population in affected areas.
Aside from the sheer gravity of the situation and these recommendations, it is interesting to consider the societal consequences of a span of time with NO BIRTHS for 2 years.
All of the other news pales in comparison to this, and so I am going to leave you with the thought that Big Pharma all over the world is doubtless burning the midnight oil trying to cook up a drug or a vaccine. Let us pray they succeed.