The Zika virus may be the Ebola of 2016, just a lot less deadly. The virus is spreading rapidly throughout the Americas. The World Health Organization said the virus is spreading “explosively.” Health officials are warning of a pandemic. And the news media is starting to take notice.
So, what is the Zika virus? Zika is spread through a certain kind of mosquito that thrives in warmer climates. It’s named after a forest in Uganda and is usually found in Africa and Asia. In fact, until 2015, almost no one in the Western Hemisphere had ever been infected with it.
That’s now changed in a big way. Last May, the Zika virus began showing up in patients in Brazil. And since people in the Americas have no immunity to it, the virus began to spread quickly. Millions of people may already be infected across South and Central America.
The Zika virus, however, is not like Ebola. It won’t kill you. Most people who contract Zika won’t even notice. Those who do will have a fever, joint pain, maybe red eyes. All of it is treatable and it’s unlikely a patient would even have to be admitted to the hospital.
There is one exception: pregnant women. Scientists suspect that a rise in the number of cases of pregnant women giving birth to children with abnormally small heads and brains — a condition called microcephaly — is related to the rise in Zika.
Typically Brazil sees about 150 microcephaly cases a year. It is right now investigating some 4,000 cases. The connection between Zika and microcephaly, however, is circumstantial. Scientists are still researching to see if Zika is actually the cause.