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Zika virus has potential to spread throughout Americas

By Karen Graham     Jan 15, 2016 in Health
Researchers studying the spread of infectious diseases say the Zika virus, possibly linked to birth defects, has the potential to spread across the Americas, including parts of the U.S.
The Zika virus is already at epidemic levels in Brazil and has been reported in Mexico as well as the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico and Martinique.
The Zika virus is native to Africa and Asia and is transmitted to humans by the daytime-biting Aedes mosquito. In 2007, according to the CDC, the virus took root in the Pacific Islands, then Central and South America. There have been as many as 22 confirmed cases of Zika in the U.S. since 2007, all involving people who had traveled outside the country.
"The summer Olympic Games in Brazil in August heighten the need for awareness of this emerging virus," Dr. Kamran Khan of St. Michael's Hospital wrote in a research letter published today in The Lancet.
What is particularly worrisome is the possible link between the Zika virus and a rare birth defect, microcephaly, in newborns. The disease itself usually causes mild symptoms such as fever, feeling unwell, a rash, red eyes and joint pain in some people, while most people don't exhibit any symptoms.
The virus has now spread through over a dozen countries in Central and South America, and up into Mexico. In December, a case of Zika was reported in Puerto Rico in a person who had not traveled outside the country, leaving health officials to believe the individual was bitten by a local infected mosquito.
"There has been a 20-fold increase in the number of babies born with a condition known as microcephaly since Zika first appeared in Brazil last May, said Dr. Khan on Thursday. "There is an association — and I emphasize the word association. It's not yet proven to be a causal relationship."
Khan told the Huffington Post Canada that Canadian women who are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant should take precautions when traveling to warmer southern climes. He suggested wearing long-sleeved clothing and using a repellent to avoid mosquito bites.
Partial map of predicted spread of Zika virus.
Partial map of predicted spread of Zika virus.
The Lancet
To predict where and how far the Zika virus could spread, Khan and his team mapped the destinations of international travelers leaving airports in Brazil from September 2014 to August 2015. Of the 9.9 million travelers in the study, 65 percent were going to the Americas, 27 percent to Europe and 5 percent to Asia.
Not surprisingly, the greatest volume of travelers had the U.S. as their destination, followed by Argentina, Chile, Italy, Portugal, and France. China and Angola had the largest number of travel destinations in Asia. Using the global known geographical locations of the Aedes mosquitoes capable of spreading the Zika virus, and the climate conditions suitable for the spread of the virus, they were able to predict where the virus will spread.
The Canadian researchers collaborated with colleagues at Oxford University, in mapping the spread of the virus. The research team is concerned about the spread of the virus being accelerated because of the summer Olympic Games being held in Brazil.
The world we live in is very interconnected now said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a tropical infectious disease specialist at the Toronto General Hospital who contributed to the study. "Things don't happen in isolation anymore. Infections from the farthest corners of the world can quickly arrive on our doorstep."
There is no magic cure for the Zika virus, nor is there a vaccine to prevent infection from the Dengue-like virus. In a public health notice, The Public Health Agency of Canada says the incubation period is from three to 12 days with the symptoms lasting two to seven days.
The study, "Anticipating the international spread of Zika virus from Brazil," was published in the Lancet on January 14, 2016.
More about Zika virus, Americas, Pregnant women, summer olympic games, no vaccine
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