The Zika virus is an RNA virus, member of the Flaviviridae family, which was found for the first time in Africa in 1947, when it was isolated from a primate (who was in Uganda in the Zika forest, hence the name), and later in 1968 when it was isolated from humans.
This name was almost unknown until a few weeks ago, when a sudden increase in cases of infection occurred. The virus is transmitted mainly through the bite of the main carrier, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can be found in tropical and subtropical areas. There have also been cases of infection through sexual transmission and infected blood transfusions and it is highly probable that it is transmissible during pregnancy from mother to child.
Zika virus infection results in adults in mild symptoms of flu (fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes) that go almost unnoticed. Nevertheless, the same symptoms are serious for the consequences that can have on a fetus.
David Heymann, the Chair of the Emergency Committee of the WHO, claims that the sole presence of the virus has not to be considered as an emergency “because, as far as we know, it does not cause serious clinical conditions. It is just for its possible link with microcephaly – he added – that we decided to declare an international emergency, but we do not know how long will it take to find that link”.
What is needed now, Heymann said, is “a standardized surveillance” and “more research” on the possible link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly.
Precisely for this reason the WHO has declared the international public health emergency. Currently researchers from the US, Brazil and other states are working together to create an effective test to detect the virus and a vaccine, which still does not exist.
The only way to stem the Zika virus at the moment is to inhibit its carriers, primarily mosquitoes.