In a little known public health emergency, South America’s largest country Brazil is trying to come to grips with a fast-growing epidemic of the Zika virus. Government health officials in Brazil linked the largest outbreak of the Zika virus ever seen in the country to thousands of cases of infant brain damage and at least 40 deaths so far in 2015.
Brazil dealing with Zika virus emergency
Brazilian health authorities have declared a national emergency given a large outbreak of the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease that has spread across much of South America.
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The symptoms of the virus are fever, rashes, headaches, joint aches and vomiting, of a duration from a few days to a week. The virus is not usually lethal, and can be treated with rest and lots of liquids.
The Zika virus was first reported in Africa after the Second World War, then moved Southeast Asia, the Western Pacific and to Latin America in the 21st Century.
The latest data also suggest that the virus is responsible for a huge increase in the number of cases of microcephaly in Brazil, a very rare condition where infants have small skulls because their brains aren’t growing properly during pregnancy. Brazilian health officials note, however, that microcephaly has not been connected to the Zika virus before.
Brazil’s Health Ministry just published statistics showing that as of last Saturday, the number of suspected Zika-related microcephaly cases had hit 2,782, up almost 16% in a week. The number of confirmed deaths was increased from 40 from 29 for the year. Brazil only had 147 microcephaly cases in 2014.
There are various causes for microcephaly in gestating babies, such as genetic abnormalities, exposure to toxins or alcohol abuse by the mother. Health authorities will only say it appears there is a link between microcephaly and Zika, but more studies are needed to confirm this conclusion.
There is no vaccine for the Zika virus. Government officials in Brazil and other Latin American countries are taking steps to eradicate mosquitoes and international health agencies such as the WHO and the CDC are also advising.
Brazilian army troops and other local work crews are drain swampy areas and eradicate mosquito larvae-filled water supplies. São Paulo state has put together a medical task force to the efforts to fight the Zika virus.
Officals are concerned that with summer vacations beginning, and the entire country of Brazil getting ready for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, that the ongoing Zika virus outbreak could become an epidemic during the games.
Statement from U.S. CDC
“This is probably the largest outbreak of Zika ever recorded,” noted Ann Powers, the acting chief of the arboviral diseases branch at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There’s a lot of concern about what it means, what the implications are, and what we can potentially do for containment and control.”
Zika is related to chikungunya, a viral infection that causes fever and severe, lasting joint pain, and has long circulated in Africa, Asia and parts of Europe, but didn’t reach the Americas until 2013, when it was found in the Caribbean. Chikungunya is now found throughout most of North and South America.
“It does seem to be following a pattern similar to chikungunya,” Powers commented, referring to Zika.