CDC warns Zika virus is in 22 countries, can lead to serious birth defects

CDC warns Zika virus is in 22 countries, can lead to serious birth defects

In light of outbreak, El Salvador has taken the extreme step of advising all women to avoid getting pregnant for the next two years.

Countries around the world are stepping up measures to prevent the ruinous Zika virus from spreading. Awareness of the disease gained notice after the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention issued a report advising pregnant women not to go to 14 countries. They then added eight other countries to the list. Reports indicate that so far, a dozen American and three British pregnant women have been diagnosed with the virus. In Brazil, considered to be the epicenter of the virus’ spread, over 3,900 newborn babies are suspected of having seriously suffered the infection.

Zika virus is spread by the aedis aegyptia mosquito (the same pest responsible for spreading dengue fever and chikungunya). 80 percent of infected individuals show no symptoms. Those who do display symptoms often suffer from a fever, rash, red and/or itchy eyes, and joint pain for a few days to a week.

However, the main threat of the Zika virus is its disastrous effects on unborn children. In Brazil, the Zika virus has been linked to an increased risk of babies being born with a rare neurological condition known as microcephaly. Babies born with this condition have abnormally small heads and suffer from serious developmental problems, potentially resulting in the death of the child.

Although the Zika virus has been around for over 50 years, it was not until 2007 that a significant number of people were infected with the disease on Yap Island in the South Pacific. This was thought to be an isolated incident until 2013 when cases began to occur on numerous islands in the South Pacific including Tahiti and the Easter Islands. The disease is undeniably spreading. It arrived in Brazil in May 2015.

“We never paid too much attention to this virus,” said Paulo Zanotto, of the University of Sao Paulo, who is studying Zika. “I’m really worried because we have no idea of the amount of spread.”

There could be anywhere between 400,000 and 1.4 million cases of Zika in Brazil today.

The CDC has issued a “travel alert (Level 2- Practice Enhanced Precautions)” for the following 22 countries: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Columbia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Samoa, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Anyone who has recently traveled to these countries should be screened and monitored, especially if pregnant.

The Zika virus is not native to the United States but cases occurred when citizens went abroad. Currently, people infected with the disease have been found in Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Texas.

In light of outbreak, El Salvador has taken the extreme step of advising all women to avoid getting pregnant for the next two years.

“The recommendation is that people plan their pregnancies, that they avoid if at all possible to have babies this year,” said Deputy Health Minister Eduardo Espinoza. “This is the first time that we have suffered an attack of Zika virus, and the first attack is always the worst.”

The campaign against pregnancies has run into direct conflict with the strict birth control and abortion laws of the country. Since 1998, all abortion is banned in El Salvador, even in cases of rape, incest, threat to the mother’s life, or infant deformities. Moreover, birth control is widely discouraged in the very Roman Catholic country.

“Morality says that people shouldn’t have that control,” said Reverand Hector Figueroa, a priest in charge of health issues in the San Salvador archdiocese. “But the church also isn’t going to say something that runs contrary to life and health. This is a very delicate issue.”

In addition to mosquito bites, the virus can be spread through sexual transmission and blood transfusions. Anyone who suffers from the infection will most likely develop immunity to the Zika virus for the rest of their lives.

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