The world has been shocked over the past month by photographs of children born with small heads as result of neurological birth disorders which we have come to call the the Zika virus.
The World Health Organisation estimate that between 3 and 4 million people will be infected with the virus in the next year.
Dr Luciana Brondi, who is a physician and epidemiologist and has worked for the Brazilian Ministry of Health in the late 1990s, in Bangladesh, Malawi and Mozambique, and is a lecturer in Communicable Disease Control in the Masters in Public Health course at Edinburgh University addresses two major questions: What exactly is this disease? Secondly, what is the connection between the disease and neurological damage to newborn infants.
Dr Brondi clarified that the figures of 3-4 million catching the disease are predictions only. The virus itself, is related to to the yellow fever, dengue virus, and West Nile viruses. It is a type of virus that has been around for a long time, and was first discovered in 1949 when it was discovered in the Zika forest, said Dr Brondi.
The disease itself, Dr Brondi clarifies, is relatively mild in comparison with the symptoms prevalent in patients who come down with dengue or yellow fever, but the risk of potential for neurological complications is there. In women who are pregnant especially in the first semester of their pregnancy there is a potential to cause microcephaly but this link has not been fully established. We do have now some biological evidence. There is a plausible causation link but it is not fully proved. Researchers like myself, Dr. Brondi stated, are working round the clock and trying to establish how real the link is.
Therefore, if you are travelling to these places coming from developed countries where there is no Zika, and you pregnant, or likely to become so, then there is a suggestion that you should change your travel plans.
Meanwhile it is very tempting for the media to pick up and splash terrifying images across the world’s media. In fact the most likely victims are poor mothers who live in these countries who do not have access to the medical facilities that we have.
Scientists are working on a vaccine and the prospects of creating an effective virus are good, because at the moment it has not split into sub-viruses.