Brazilian Zika Virus arrives In Africa

Aedes Albopictus
An Aedes albopictus female mosquito obtaining a blood meal from a human host. Under experimental conditions the Aedes albopictus mosquito, also known as the Asian tiger mosquito, has been found to be a vector of West Nile virus. Aedes is a genus of the Culicine family of mosquitos. Photo: CDC/ James Gathany

On April 13th the U.S Centers for Disease Control published a report confirming that the zika virus did indeed cause microcephaly in unborn children.

“This study marks a turning point in the Zika outbreak. It is now clear that the virus causes microcephaly. We are also launching further studies to determine whether children who have microcephaly born to mothers infected by the Zika virus is the tip of the iceberg of what we could see in damaging effects on the brain and other developmental problems,” said Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC. “We’ve now confirmed what mounting evidence has suggested, affirming our early guidance to pregnant women and their partners to take steps to avoid Zika infection and to health care professionals who are talking to patients every day. We are working to do everything possible to protect the American public.” (source)

157 women in in the United States have tested positive for the disease, which in addition to microcephaly can cause other developmental problems in  children, and which has also been linked to Guillain Barre Syndrome.

Officials have warned that they are expecting outbreaks in Southern California, as well as in Texas and other southern states. 

Zika spreading through the population could be a disaster for the global economy which has been faltering since the crash. Known to be spread by sexual contact as well as from the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, the health care costs for those children unfortunate enough to be affected are going to be astronomical. Many microcephalic children require around the clock care and this will hit parents who unable to afford many of the costs of daily care are forced to quit their jobs and provide that care for their child themselves.

Last week doctors warned that the virus would most likely make it to Europe this summer. Even more worrying is The arrival of the Brazil zika virus in Africa.

The World Health Organisation has reported that the strain of zika responsible for the outbreak in Brazil has been found in Africa for the first time.

Zika has been know in Africa for 50 years, and it’s likely many people on the continent have a degree of immunity to the disease.There is not a single case of microcephaly linked to zika ever recorded in Africa. Is this through less reporting of cases? Or is it that African zika doesn’t cause brain malformation and neurological problems. Scientists are working to establish how the African and Asian strains of zika differ, and if immunity to the African train confers immunity to the Asian strain. NB It is the asian strain of zika that has caused the outbreak in Brazil.

Zika spreading through Africa would be a nightmare. In countries where medical care is patchy at best, and where many people simply can’t afford to get medical care, having a condition that could potentially afflict millions of children would be a disaster of Biblical proportions.

Cape verde has reported thousands of cases of zika and has reported 180 pregnant women have so far been found to be infected. Scientists have confirmed Cape Verde infections are Asian zika. Three recently delivered babies have so far been found to have microcephaly as a direct result of the infection.

I reported a couple of weeks ago how a British company, Oxitec, released genetically modified mosquitos in the exact same area of Brazil that is now reporting more than 1,300 babies being born with microcephaly. You can read that article here.

There’s no way of knowing at this stage how far Asian zika will spread, how many children will be infected and how that will affect the costs and provision of medical care in the areas hit by the disease. We could be looking at a situation where poorer nations just can’t cope with the financial burden placed upon them, which in turn will impact mosquito eradication programs and national economies as a whole.

Although none of us can change what happens on a national level we can take some responsibility for ourselves and our families.

Although zika is primarily a problem for women of child bearing age mosquitos carry a huge amount of diseases and prevention is always better than cure. You can read about some of the diseases these small but deadly insects carry here and here

Make mosquito bite prevention a priority:

  • Wear light coloured clothing with long sleeves and trousers if you are out at dawn and dusk.
  • Use a quality mosquito repellent when out and about.
  • Use repellent mosquito coils and plenty of them if entertaining outdoors.
  • Use plug-in bug killers in the home. Turn them on an hour before dusk to let the vapour build ( you won’t detect it but bugs can) Leave them on all night.
  • If you use screen doors/windows make sure they are in a good state of repair.
  • As well as repellant dab citronella oil on pulse points as added protection.
  • Use bed nets impregnated with Deet if you can but even just the net will provide good protection.
  • Always cover buggies and prams with nets to protect infants.
  • Empty out any standing or stagnant water. Mosquitos can lay eggs in as little as a soda cap full of water. Use mosquito traps on porches and balconies.

Let’s hope that the current outbreak doesn’t start a global problem as malaria, dengue and many other mosquito borne diseases have.