The Zika virus reached the United States in 2015; In Brazil, which was hit hardest by the epidemic, about 1.5 million people were infected with the virus in the same year, and potential side effects were starting to appear.
Zika virus has appeared in different African and Asian countries since its discovery in Uganda in 1947; but it wasn’t until 2013 when it started spreading to neighboring Pacific islands, affecting about 13% of the population of French Polynesia.
In 2014, several international sports events were held in Brazil – such as the FIFA World Cup. Researchers suspect that the virus was transmitted to South America by people arriving from Pacific islands.
The virus has since spread throughout South and Central America – as far as Puerto Rico, including the Caribbean.
The virus was seen again in 2021. In the state of Kerala, India, 14 people were found to have Zika virus. The virus was first detected in a 24-year-old pregnant woman who was admitted to the hospital with headache, fever and rash on 28 June.
Since 2015, two people in Spain, three in Britain, and about a dozen people in the US have tested positive for Zika virus. The virus has also been associated with a baby born with microcephaly in Hawaii.
However, it should be noted that American and European cases consist of people who have recently visited places where the Zika virus has been found. So it is not correct to say that the virus reached the places where these people were diagnosed.
On February 3, U.S. officials rated 30 countries with a ‘Level 2’ travel health warning due to local Zika virus reports. This means travelers need to be extra vigilant to protect themselves from mosquito bites and prevent Zika. Countries receiving the alert include American Samoa, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guinea, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Samoa, Suriname, Tonga, Venezuela and the US Virgin Islands.
Pregnant women are warned not to stay in these areas if possible, no matter what month they are. Women who are considering becoming pregnant should consult their doctor before traveling. When travel is unavoidable, pregnant women and women who want to become pregnant must follow the strictest protocols against mosquito bites. They need to use products with active ingredients such as DEET or picaridin on bare skin.
Within a few decades of its discovery, Zika began to appear throughout Africa and in several Asian countries. But because its symptoms were relatively mild – transient fever, rash, joint pain and redness of the eyes – it was not considered a major threat compared to other mosquito-borne diseases.
However, this situation started to change in 2007; The virus broke out on the southwest Pacific islands of Yap. This date marked the first appearance of the virus outside of Africa and Asia. In 2013, as predicted, a large-scale Zika epidemic began in French Polynesia. This time, however, the epidemic came with a 20-fold increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome – a rare autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the nerves.
The Zika virus reached the United States in 2015; Brazil took the hardest hit of the epidemic. In the same year, about 1.5 million people were infected with the virus, and potential side effects were starting to appear.
It was thought that the epidemic progressed in parallel with the increase in babies born with a birth defect called microcephaly. Microcephaly is a condition in which the brain does not develop normally in the womb and the baby is born with an abnormally small head. It can have lifelong consequences for the child, such as intellectual disability, delayed development, and seizures.
Between 2010 and 2014, about 156 babies were born with microcephaly in Brazil. However, from October 2015 to January 2016, this number increased to 4000 babies. The researchers suspected that these babies had been exposed to the Zika virus in the womb, and the virus had severely affected their development.
Researchers are still trying to confirm the association between the Zika virus and conditions such as microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome. But countries under the epidemic, such as Brazil, Colombia, and El Salvador, have already begun warning women to delay pregnancy.
Looking at the migration of other mosquito-borne diseases, it’s easy to see that the virus has recently emerged in states like Texas, Florida, Hawaii.
The migration routes and global travel patterns of mosquitoes carrying Zika virus may mean that the virus will continue to spread before the epidemic ends. Experts say the best way to resist Zika is to fight the mosquitoes – by destroying the stagnant water they breed in and disinfecting areas with mosquito repellents.