If you have heard people talking about the Zika virus and do not know what exactly it is, you are not the only one. According to World Health Organization (WHO), cases of this surfacing infectious disease are significantly rising in the Americas and “spreading explosively”. There are reports in many states in the US of cases of travelers bringing back the infection from places they visited.
Although it is usually spread by mosquitoes, Zika can also be sexually transmitted. In early February, there was confirmation of one case of sexual transmission in Texas, and 14 additional reports of possible sexual transmission of the virus are currently being investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Zika and Men
The Zika virus is found to be present in the semen of infected men. It is still unknown how long the virus lasts in semen and over what period of time he can transmit it through sexual contact. Experts in infectious disease agree that reproductively speaking, men have the highest cause for concern after they visit a place with a large Zika outbreak.
Because it is still unclear how long Zika stays in semen and no commercial test is available, it is difficult to know how long men have to worry about possible passing on of the infection to their partner, and their baby. A CDC spokesperson has recently stated that it is the agency’s hope to start a study as soon as possible to find out how long the virus lasts in sperm and what other effects Zika may have on men.
Zika and Women
It appears that the Zika virus is especially dangerous for pregnant women and their babies. There are still many uncertainties about the virus during pregnancy, and there have been rapid changes in information as time passes.
Special warning has been given to pregnant women concerning the Zika virus. When an expecting mother becomes infected with the virus, the fetus can also be infected. Before the current outbreak, cases of Zika infection were extremely rare in Brazil. However, since the outbreak, it is estimated that up to 1.5 million Brazilians have been infected. Between October 2015 and January 2016, Brazilian health authorities have reported more than 4,180 cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect. In previous years, a total of only approximately 150 cases of microcephaly were reported annually.
It is due to this potential link that health experts believe that an infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy may result in microcephaly. A small study has indicated that serious eye abnormalities in babies may be linked to the virus. The effects that doctors have observed appear to be different to those usually seen in babies born with this rare birth defect from other causes, such as toxoplasmosis or rubella.
Zika and Microcephaly
There have been some studies that have found the Zika virus in the brain of microcephalic babies whose mothers contracted Zika while they were pregnant. Other research has also noted the presence of the virus genome in the blood, saliva, and urine of mothers who gave birth to babies with microcephaly. According to the Mayo Clinic, microcephaly may cause mental retardation, as well as delays in growth, movement, and speech.
Another small study suggests the virus is able to cross the placenta as it was found that there was a presence of Zika antibodies in the amniotic fluid of two pregnant women. Tests were negative for both women for the virus in both their urine as well as blood samples, and they gave birth to babies with microcephaly! Researchers, however stressed that this was not confirmation that there is any link between Zika and microcephaly.
The CDC cautions that there is a requirement for more research in order to better understand the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly. There is no clear understanding yet about the exact results that might be associated with infection during pregnancy and the factors that may play a role in increasing risk to a fetus.
There is evidence though that America and other drug companies would have more money for research and development to fight diseases and viruses such as Zika if they were not taxed so much. America’s health care system has been under attack with the onslaught of the Affordable Care Act as well. It is hard to find cures for diseases when it seems you are under attack from your own government.
CDC’s Guidelines and Warnings
A travel alert was recently issued by the CDC, advising all pregnant women cancel or delay any trip to Zika-active areas. The list of countries or territories where the infection is active given the alert continues to expand and now includes 34 areas, most of which are in the Americas.
According to the CDC's newest guidelines, pregnant women coming back from these areas are recommended to get tested for Zika. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported that two pregnant women in Illinois tested positive for the virus after recent travel, and three pregnant women in Florida were also reported to be infected by the Zika virus. Additionally, the CDC advises men with pregnant partners to use condoms if they live in or travel to areas where the Zika infection is active.