One month ago, the World Health Organisation declared Zika virus to be a public health emergency of international concern. Although not normally life threatening, contracting Zika virus carries a lot of uncomfortable symptoms, such as fever, rash, conjunctivitis and joint pain.
So why was it declared to be an international emergency? Well, for one thing, it is extremely infectious. Like malaria, it is transferred by mosquitoes. For this reason, Zika virus is most prevalent in warmer climates, especially south America, but is likely to spread greatly. For most of us, the Zika virus is very uncomfortable and inconvenient, but is unlikely to cause us any serious damage. However, the Zika virus provides a very serious threat to pregnant women. The virus has been linked to the developing of a serious birth defect called Microcephaly. Microcephaly causes a new-born’s head to be dramatically reduced in size, in severe cases causing the baby’s brain to not develop properly. This can lead to many problems, including seizures, developmental delay, difficulty swallowing and decreased intelligence, leading to difficulties in functioning day to day. In the last few days, the virus has been proven to cause the destruction of brain cells in infected babies.
For these reasons, the Centre for Disease Control has advised that pregnant women do not travel to areas that are known to have the Zika virus. If you do need to travel there, extreme care should be taken to prevent mosquito bites.
Those that are travelling to Rio for the summer Olympics are also advised to take care. Appropriate vaccines should be taken before travelling, including routine vaccines such as MMR, polio and chickenpox. However, vaccines for forms of hepatitis and medicine for malaria is also recommended. For a full list of safety precautions, please see: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/alert/2016-summer-olympics-rio