Originally identified in Uganda in 1947, the Zika virus is recently gaining lots of media attention as it escalates as a global healthcare emergency. The first human infection was detected in Africa in 1952, and in 50 years the virus hardly migrated to Asia. In 2014, however, an outbreak took place in the Americas with infections subsequently reported in Brazil, Puerto Rico, and Colombia. Today, 37 cases of Zika virus have been detected in Mexico. The states of Chiapas, Campeche, and Yucatan exhibit the highest number of them, while cases in Mexico City and Toluca are unlikely to happen due to the altitude of these cities.

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In red: countries where Zika virus is active. In yellow: countries where the virus was imported by travelers. Source: Milenio.com

The virus is transmitted by the mosquito bite of Aedes Aegipty, which is the same strain disseminating dengue and chikungunya. Infections are much more frequent in tropical regions as mosquitoes thrive in this environment, and several cases have been identified in Europe among travelers who recently visited countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The symptoms include fever, cutaneous eruptions, muscular and joint pain, headaches, and conjunctivitis. The symptoms are moderate and only one out of four people would actually manifest signs of the disease; however, unlike dengue and chikungunya, the greatest risk is for pregnant women, as babies can be born with microcephaly – a neurological disease in which newborns have a smaller head circumference than the normal average – and with other complications.

According to Dr. Mercedes Juan, Minister of Health, Mexico is well prepared to face this situation, and warned the population not to travel to countries presenting more cases. Preventive measures should be adopted by pregnant women, such as wearing clothes that cover their arms and legs, using mosquito repellents, and eliminating stagnant water. Additionally, pregnant women who live or have travelled to tropical areas should mention this in their pre-natal medical visits.

The WHO estimates that four million people will be infected by the end of 2016. According to the Diector General of the WHO, Margaret Chan, the association of the Zika virus with microcephaly is enough to declare it a public healthcare emergency. At this point, there is no vaccine for this disease, which has led drugmaker Sanofi to launch an effort to quickly develop a vaccine against Zika given its vast experience in dengue.

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