The Confused Person’s Guide to the Zika Virus


On Jan. 16, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning to pregnant women, advising them to postpone travelling to a total of 17 countries that had reports of active spread of the Zika virus. For confused person(s), here are some answers to important questions about why the CDC has taken such measures.

What is the Zika virus?
Related to yellow fever, West Nile, and Dengue, Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted infection that was first discovered in Zika forest, Uganda. While it is prevalent in Asia and Africa, it began to spread into the Western hemisphere last May with a breakout in Brazil. According to the New York Times, because immune barriers against this virus are rare in the western part of the globe, the virus has spread rapidly since its introduction.

How does it spread?
Zika virus is primarily spread through mosquito bites. The Aedes mosquito species, which resides in tropical areas such as Florida, Hawaii, and the Gulf Coast, is the main carrier of the Zika virus. However, there has been one reported case of the virus being spread through blood transfusion. It is also possible for babies to be infected by this virus before birth, as was observed in recent cases.

Is the virus new?
No. However, due to its low mortality rates and mild symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes, Zika virus had not previously been considered a threat.

Then why is it suddenly making headlines?
Over the last year, there has been a surge in babies born with microcephaly, a rare and incurable condition in which an infant is born with an unusually small head and brain. The exponential rise of Brazilian babies born with this condition, from 147 cases in 2014 to more than 3,500 cases in 2015, has caused significant global alarm. Those with microcephaly could face infant mortality, with 40 infants being reported to have died soon after their birth; those who do survive may face intellectual impairment in their future.

Is this pure coincidence, or is there a scientific link between Zika and microcephaly?
Scientists don’t fully understand the connection between the virus and microcephaly, but there seems to be a very strong correlation between the two. A majority of microcephaly reports have also exposed mothers who have been infected with the Zika virus. This correlation was first noted in October of 2015, when doctors in Northern Brazil noticed a surge of babies born with this condition.

How can we stop this virus?
Currently, there is no vaccine for the Zika virus, nor can we expect to see one soon. After all, vaccines take a tremendous amount of time and money to produce. So to prevent further spread of this virus, the following steps must be taken.

The primary carrier of the Zika virus, the Aedes mosquito, is able to lay eggs in pools of water as small as a cap of water. Therefore, governments are taking steps to prevent mosquitos from reproducing by urging citizens to get rid of any standing water in their property—especially in areas where the Aedes mosquito is common, such as Hawaii.

Will I be affected?
In Korea, especially in this cold winter, there are minimal chances of the tropical Aedes mosquito surviving. Therefore, if you live here, you shouldn’t worry; however, when travelling to tropical areas, be careful to avoid mosquito bites.