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Experts say Zika has ‘explosive pandemic potential.’ Here’s what you should know.
A mysterious virus called Zika is spreading rapidly around the globe, leading the World Health Organization to issue a global emergency. The mostly mild virus is raising concerns because of a condition it’s linked to called microcephaly, a birth defect characterized by an irregularly small head.
The outbreak began in Brazil in May 2015 and has since affected at least 1 million people in more than 30 countries. Experts say the disease has “explosive pandemic potential” and could infect more than 4 million by the end of the year.
If you’re just joining the story, here’s what you need to know:
What it Zika?
Zika is a mosquito-borne illness named for the forest in Uganda where it originates. American and European scientists unintentionally discovered it in 1947 while studying a rhesus monkey for yellow fever. It did not appear in humans until 1952 when it was reported in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.
Is this the first outbreak of this scale?
Yes. The first major outbreak of Zika occurred in Micronesia in 2007. There were just 49 confirmed cases and no hospitalizations. The next was 2013-2014 in French Polynesia, which resulted in a total of 19,000 suspected cases. Experts estimate that the number of those affected in the current outbreak has already passed 1 million.
What happens to those infected?
In one out of five cases, nothing. Only 20 percent of those infected show symptoms—the most common of which include fever, joint pain, red eyes, and a bumpy rash. The illness is generally mild, rarely fatal, and typically gone in a week.
Why is it so dangerous?
Zika has been linked to two serious autoimmune and neurological complications. The first is microcephaly, a severe birth defect characterized by an abnormally small head. The underdeveloped brain can lead to a host of other problems, including behavioral delays, trouble walking, and blindness. There is no cure.
Second is Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare disorder in which the body’s immune systems attacks its own nerve cells, resulting in weakened muscles or, less commonly, paralysis. Some recover fully from GBS, while others have it for life.