February 16, 2016
By Alexander Diana
A once familiar foe, known best for its work in the Spanish-American War, has resurfaced in Brazil and poses a threat of spreading to the United States. The name of the culprit is Aedes aegypti, otherwise known as the yellow fever mosquito. This insect is responsible for spreading the viral disease known as the Zika Virus.
The Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, specifically Aedes aegypti. Symptoms of this disease include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva in the eyes). The disease itself is not life-threatening and usually doesn’t require hospitalization. However, there has been a link established between the Zika virus and congenital microcephaly in newborn babies. Even though the Zika virus is not life- threatening, the same cannot be said for microcephaly in newborns.
Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is unusually small due to incomplete brain growth and development. The prognosis of the disease varies from case to case. Some infants may be diagnosed with microcephaly, but suffer no brain defects or constraints in development. Others may experience seizures, developmental delay, intellectual disability and a number of other neurological disorders. The most severe cases result in miscarriages and stillbirths.
Outbreaks have occurred in Central and South America, so traveling to a number of these countries is discouraged for women that are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
The situation in Brazil is so dire that experimental measures are being taken in order to quell the spread of the virus. The country is releasing genetically altered male mosquitoes to mate with the female mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus. When the genetically altered male and the Aedes aegypti female mate, their offspring will inherit a “self-destruct” gene passed on by the male mosquito. This gene prevents the mosquitoes from reaching adulthood and possessing the ability to spread the disease. This method will cut the mosquito population that is spreading the Zika virus by as much as 90 percent, without the use of pesticides.
This article does not intend to create fear but to raise awareness. It is important to stay informed, not only for your own benefit, but for the benefit of those around you. If we understand the severity of the problem, we will have the opportunity and means to produce a solution.