The Zika Virus

There is a very dangerous epidemic in Brazil and all of South and Central America caused by the so-called Zika virus that is being spread by mosquitoes.  Apparently this virus is new to S. America and may have been introduced in 2014 by visitors from around the world for the Football World Cup event in Brazil.  What is most insidious about this epidemic is that the virus appears to cause microcephaly or reduction in brain development in new-born babies.  Since the epidemic has only been going for about a year it is too early to say anything definite about it, except that there are now thousands of confirmed cases of microcephaly in Brazil, Honduras and elsewhere.

Several countries have issued warnings to their citizens not to travel to South and Central America, especially for pregnant women.  It would be better if all young women avoid going there and in fact everybody, since once bitten by a Zika-carrying mosquito a man can be a carrier.  Brazil is going to be the venue for the up-coming Olympic Games and this could cause a world-wide catastrophe.  Of course, Brazil is taking maximum precaution, the Army has been called out to spray every stadium and place where athletes and visitors will be, and to remove even the smallest pool of water where mosquitoes can breed.   Africa seems to have been the origin of the Zika virus, but since Africa has had campaigns of eradication of mosquitoes against malaria for years, this has evidently reduced the effects of the Zika virus there.  But, there have been no such spraying campaigns in S. America and so this is virgin and fertile territory for the Zika virus.

Cases of Zika have been reported in Mexico, so the US has advised people not to visit Mexico for the time-being.  But, given the tremendous transfer of populations that occurs on a daily basis between Mexico and the US one can confidently expect the Zika virus and microcephaly to turn up soon in the USA.  What may be worse about this epidemic than the AIDS one, is that while AIDS was caused by human sexual activity (particularly homosexual) this epidemic of Zika affects new-born babies, that have no chance of avoidance once the mother is infected.  Scientists are working hard on identifying the Zika virus and trying to produce a vaccine or effective drug, but this has only just begun. In the meantime it is probably advisable to stay away from Central and South America and to skip this year’s Olympic Games in Brazil.

 

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