Latin America could soon be hit by a new strain of virus: Zika.
Brazilian authorities have confirmed one death by the virus, and are opening investigations into six others which could have been caused by the disease. Zika is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti, mosquito, the same family as the dengue and chikunguña airborne viruses.
Although not yet considered to be deadly, in Brazil alone the virus could have provoked some 1,248 cases of microcephaly in newborns in 14 of Brazil’s 27 states.
“We have three different clinical studies which show that zika can result in death and cause serious abnormalities in fetus,” Claudio Maierovitch, director of Brazil’s Health Surveillance System for Communicable Diseases told La Tercera.
The virus was first detected in the Americas in 2014, after the first case was confirmed by Chilean authorities on Easter Island during February 2014.
In May of this year, Brazilian health authorities confirmed that the pathogen had reached the northeast of the country, prior to its presence being confirmed in 14 states in October, the BBC reports.
Colombian authorities also confirmed the first highly contagious case of the virus in the department of Bolívar this year, according to the World Health Organization. Nine cases have since been confirmed.
Symptoms and treatment
“Recent outbreaks of zika in diverse regions of the world demonstrate the potential of this virus to spread to regions where the Aedes aegypti is found,” the WHO commented.
Originally detected in Uganda in 1947, the virus has now split into two strains: the African and the Asian. In 2013, some 10,000 cases were reported in French Polynesia, resulting in 70 deaths, the most deadly strain of zika to date.
“We need to prevent, as much as possible, the storage of water in homes, people should not have open water tanks where mosquitos can breed, these are very important measures,” Mercedes Juan, Mexico’s Health Secretary added.
Zika can take some three to 12 days to incubate, with symptoms normally presenting themselves between days four and seven. Headache, fever, muscle ache and a full-body rash are just some of the symptoms found in patients.
While there is no set treatment for zika, patients are advised to drink lots of liquids, remain hydrated and take paracetamol or aspirin for joint and muscle pain.
Yet just as with dengue, and even malaria, awareness and prevention is key. Travellers in remote jungle areas are most at risk, with the use of deet and mosquito nets as highly recommended.