Concerns over the Zika virus have caused many travelers to rethink their Olympics plans. In fact, several athletes have decided to forgo the Summer Olympics, including golfers Jason Day and Vijay Singh and cyclist Tejay van Garderen, due to the Zika virus. With the virus still spreading throughout Central and South America, the Caribbean, and southern parts of the United States, it's important to know the most current Zika news.
What do we know about Zika?
The Zika virus is still fairly new to Latin America, but it has spread quickly and caused series concerns due to its link to birth defects. While Zika is a generally mild virus and therefore not a concern for healthy adults, problems related to Zika first appeared in northeast Brazil, where doctors noticed a startling number of babies born with a malformation of the brain called microcephaly. Since then, studies have been conducted which have proved the link between Zika and microcephaly.
Zika can lead to birth defects when a pregnant woman contracts the virus, which can then be passed to a fetus through the placenta. When this occurs, Zika can cause the baby to develop an abnormally small head, which is often related to an underdeveloped brain. The severity of this condition varies, but some babies born with microcephaly will have developmental delays, hearing loss, and/or vision loss, and the most serious cases lead to death.
Zika has also been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a temporary but potentially serious paralysis. There is about a 1 in 4000-5000 chance that a person who is infected with Zika will have this condition.
How is Zika spread? Where is Zika?
Zika is mostly spread by mosquitoes. Like Dengue fever and chikungunya, Zika is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which thrives in tropical climates.
Unlike other mosquito-borne illnesses, Zika can also be spread through sex and from a pregnant woman to her unborn child.
Zika is currently active in all of Central and South America, with the exception of Chile and Uruguay. In addition, Zika is expected to spread in parts of the U.S. where the Aedes aegypti mosquito lives--Florida and the Gulf Coast. Zika cases have also been reported in places like New York City where travelers return from Puerto Rico, Brazil, and other areas where Zika is present and then pass the virus on to their partners through sexual transmission.
Will the Olympics be canceled due to Zika?
The World Health Organization stands by its decision to not postpone or cancel the Olympic Games, which are set to begin in Rio de Janeiro in August. Their reasoning includes the fact that transmission of Zika is expected to decrease as winter in Brazil begins, and that visitors can prevent the spread of the virus by taking precautions, especially using insect repellent. However, about 150 scientists asked the WHO to reconsider, citing concerns that some of the several hundred thousand visitors will carry the virus back to their home countries.
Who should avoid traveling due to Zika?
The WHO recommends that pregnant women do not travel to areas where Zika is actively spreading.
Women who plan to get pregnant soon or the partners of women who may be pregnant should avoid such travel or delay pregnancy. It is believed that the Zika virus can live in pregnant women for about two months but for a shorter time in men and non-pregnant women.
Latest news about a Zika vaccine
A Zika vaccine is currently being developed. Because the virus is similar to yellow fever and dengue, a vaccine can be developed relatively easily. However, testing of the vaccine will take at least two years.