The recent outbreak of the Zika Virus in South Africa has scientists around the world scratching their heads. The Zika virus is not a new virus in Africa. Uganda, Sierra Leone and Tanzania have been dealing with the virus for years. But scientists are discovering differences in this new strain of Zika. The old strain produced flu-like symptoms when people were bitten by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, and most cases were never reported. The virus was so benign that very little research was done, and no vaccine was developed, according to Brazil’s Ministry of Health’s primary medical expert, Sergio Cortes.
Dr. Cortes has been posting information about the Brazilian Zika virus outbreak on his website for the last eight months. There’s something new posted on the site daily because people want to get to know how the Zika virus works when it enters the human bloodstream and where it goes from there. The latest South African Zika outbreak resembles the Brazilian outbreak more than the old African outbreaks, according to Dr. Cortes.
What Dr. Cortes is saying is the new Zika virus is connected to other diseases. Researchers recently discovered that Zika and the birth disorder call microcephaly are connected. All pregnant women infected with the Zika virus are at risk, according to Cortes, because the virus has been found in the amniotic fluid of infected pregnant women. The researchers aren’t sure if every pregnant Zika virus carrier will deliver a baby with microcephaly, but there is that possibility according to Cortes.
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the side-effects of the Zika virus. Some researchers believe the new strain of Zika could be a mutation of the dengue, Zika and chikungunya viruses. The mutated virus could be responsible for not only microcephaly, but also for Guillain-Barre syndrome, a paralyzing neurological condition.
Brazil has an aggressive mosquito eradication program in progress, according to a post on the Dr. Cortes LinkedIn page. Brazil is using a very strong larvicide that alters the genetic code in mosquitos. The new mosquitos are unable to breed.
Some scientist believe some of the larvicide has contaminated the drinking water in the underdeveloped areas of Northeastern Brazil and that is having an impact on the number of microcephaly cases in the country. In 2014, there were about 200 cases of microcephaly in Brazil. In the last seven months, there have been more than 6,500 cases reported, and there are many more cases that have not been reported.