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The Spread of Zika Virus

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Once considered not so serious, Zika Virus is fast becoming a nightmare. People with Zika infections have symptoms that can include mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle pain, joint pain and headache. In the last two years, national health authorities of Brazil and French Polynesia reported potential neurological and auto-immune complications of Zika virus disease. In Brazil, the authorities also observed an increase in Guillain-Barre syndrome (an autoimmune disorder that can lead to life-threatening paralysis) which coincided with Zika virus infections in the general public, as well as an increase in babies born with microcephaly in northeast Brazil.

In Brazil, over 1200 microcephaly cases were recorded in 2015. The tenfold rise in a year time is believed to be connected with a spreading of the Zika Virus in South America in recent years.

Recently, studies published on Zika virus by UCLA finds significant genetic changes in the strain compared with one discovered 70 years back. The researchers are tracing the genetic mutation to understand how the transmission happens from person to person and how the virus causes different

Zika virus is transmitted through the vector Aedes aegypti, the same mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. Also, sexual transmission of Zika virus is possible. The possibility of transmission via blood is being investigated.

More than 50% of the world population lives in regions where mosquitos are prevalent and Aedes aegypti population is extremely difficult to control. This puts the larger part of the population living in tropical and developing countries at much larger risk.

The World Health Organization (WHO) promotes the elimination of mosquito breeding sites as the most effective way of protecting people from Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya and Yellow fever. Usage of repellents for personal protection against mosquito bites is also recommended. Fogging is advocated only in an emergency and is advised to be carried out only during the hours around dawn and dusk when mosquito activity is most intense. WHO is also exploring newer methods (currently in trials) to bring down the population of the vector in regions severely infected by Zika virus.

In 2016, Spain confirmed that a pregnant woman has been diagnosed with the Zika virus, first such case in Europe. Previously, European countries including Ireland and Denmark reported Zika-virus infections in the country, but not in pregnant women.

Zika virus in the United States and other countries are mainly linked to people travelling to and from Brazil. In the period between September 2009 and August 2015, the number of travelers from Brazil to the United States was nearly 2.8 million.

Given the growing severity of this infectious disease, there is a fair number of drug developers looking into a possible Zika virus cure. Some of the notable ones are Inovio Pharma, NewLink Genetics, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, and Cerus. The possible cure is expected to be available in the form of vaccines according to various sources within the pharmaceutical industry.

Intrexon, a company involved in biologic insect controls, has developed genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes focused on passing a genetic mutation to the next generation of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. This new genetic insertion kills the new generation of mosquitoes before they reach the reproductive adult stage. The pest control method by Intrexon was announced environmentally safe by The Food and Drug Administration in March 2016. This could really be the start of Zika-virus combat mission.