Symptoms of the Zika virus for most people aren’t severe. In fact, most people don’t even show symptoms, and if they do they’re flu-like, but for pregnant women the effects of the virus can be devastating.
Contracted via the bite from an Aedes mosquito, the virus can then be passed on from a mother to her unborn child. And now the disease is being linked by scientists to thousands of birth defects in Brazil where babies have been born with abnormally small heads and brains.
There have been around 4,000 babies born in the country since October with the condition, which is known as microcephaly. In comparison there were only a few hundred cases in Brazil for the whole of 2014. It’s an incurable condition that leaves the child with severe learning difficulties.
Alarmingly the virus, which originated in Africa, is on the move.
“Since Brazil reported the first cases of local transmission of the virus in May 2015, it has spread to 21 countries and territories of the Americas,” said a statement from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional office of the World Health Organization.
They predict that the virus will probably spread across nearly all of the Americas.
“PAHO anticipates that Zika virus will continue to spread and will likely reach all countries and territories of the region where Aedes mosquitoes are found.”
Watch this report from Channel 4 News about the spread of the virus:
“There are two main reasons for the virus’s rapid spread,” the UN health agency said.
The first being: “The population of the Americas had not previously been exposed to Zika, and therefore lacks immunity.”
The second being: “[the] Aedes mosquitoes — the main vector for Zika transmission — are present in all the region’s countries except Canada and continental Chile.”
The BBC says that Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Jamaica have recommended that women delay pregnancies until more is known about the virus. Meanwhile, the U.S. has now warned pregnant women not to travel to 22 countries. Dozens of cases have been confirmed in the U.S. already.
It could take up to two years to create a vaccine.
The Aedes mosquito is found in tropical regions, and it also transmits dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever.
Watch this report by The National about the risk of pregnant women in North America traveling to areas were the disease is currently spreading: